Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Film"

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Asker Anonymous Asks:
Do you know anything about the president's taste in music and film?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The current President?  I’m sure the information is out there somewhere, but I’m not positive what his tastes are.  I do remember from the campaign that one of his favorite songs is “Ready or Not” by The Fugees, which means Obama might have the coolest favorite song in Presidential History.

As for other Presidents, I know that Dwight Eisenhower loved westerns and Ronald Reagan was a big fan of older movies (unsurprisingly, since he was in a bunch of them), but despised anything that was even a hint off-color.  Richard Nixon spent hours alone in the Lincoln Sitting Room writing memos on yellow legal pads while blasting martial sounds from the Victory At Sea television movie soundtrack. 

I vaguely remember reading an article about what George W. Bush had on his iPod and it was mainly classic rock.  Bill Clinton had some great taste in music, too, with favorites such as Elvis, the Four Tops, and many Motown and soul singers.  The elder George Bush was a fan of Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies and country music.  Jimmy Carter had classical music playing in the Oval Office while he worked alone and was a fan of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and the Allman Brothers.

JFK tried to watch movies almost every night, but often got bored quickly and left the White House theater in the middle of the films.  His favorite songs were “Stardust” and “Stormy Weather”.  Truman — a self-trained pianist — enjoyed classical music, particularly Beethoven, Bach’s preludes, and Chopin’s waltzes.

Woodrow Wilson infamously loved D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film Birth of Nation, and excitedly reviewed it by noting “It’s like writing history with lightning and my only regret is that it is all terribly true.”

William McKinley enjoyed the opera, but his favorite piece of music was the hymn Nearer, My God, To Thee.  After he was shot in 1901, some of the last words McKinley spoke were lyrics to the hymn and it became attached to his memory as bands played the song when his body was transferred from Buffalo, New York to Washington for his state funeral and home to Canton, Ohio for burial.

Of the earlier Presidents, we are left with the best history of a President’s musical tastes by studies of Abraham Lincoln.  The fantastic Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom website features many in-depth categories about Lincoln’s personality, beliefs, likes and dislikes and the section on his musical tastes is exhaustive.

Abraham Lincoln was fond of frontier music played on the fiddle, as well as songs sang by musical troupes and groups of children.  Lincoln was said to be a fan of almost all music as he was a very sentimental person and lover of poetry.  Lincoln’s close friend and confidant, Ward Hill Lamon, would often sing songs for Lincoln to help cheer up the moody President. 

Lincoln had a deep appreciation for Negro spirituals and was especially fond of hearing songs being sung by former slaves. Lincoln’s favorite song was probably “The Blue-Tail Fly”, which many people know better as “Jimmy Crack Corn”.  The song is deeper than it seems and shows some insight on Lincoln’s thoughts.  It’s possible that Lincoln just enjoyed the tune or melody or found it funny when his friend Lamon sang it.  It’s also possible that the meaning behind the lyrics got to Lincoln as the song is basically a sarcastic elegy by a slave rejoicing at his master’s death.

One of the most ironic favorites of Lincoln’s musical tastes is “Dixie”, which became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Lincoln was always enlivened by the song and once told the journalist Noah Brooks, “I just feel like marching, always, when that tune is played.”  At the end of Lincoln’s last public speech prior to his assassination (at the White House, April 10, 1865), the President asked a band to play “Dixie”, telling the crowd, “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard.  Our adversaries over the way attempted to appreciate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it.  I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize.  I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”  Most of the crowd laughed at Lincoln’s jokes and enjoyed the performance of “Dixie”, but one of those who didn’t find the humor in it was John Wilkes Booth, who seethed with anger as he watched Lincoln’s speech and killed him four nights later.

(Of course, there were no films during Lincoln’s time, but he was a huge fan of the theater, which is where Booth, of course, killed him.  Lincoln also was a fan of Booth — one of America’s most famous actors of the time — and had seen his eventual assassin perform on several occasions.)