Hail to the Chief: Presidents in the Gilmore Archives
Every four years, Americans turn their attention to the presidential contest. You might expect—indeed, you might hope—that the Gilmore Music Library would provide a quiet refuge from the otherwise inescapable din of the campaign, but presidents and elections have a surprisingly large presence in our collections. The library holds the papers of Vladimir Horowitz, Robert Shaw, Benny Goodman, and other prominent musicians who performed at the White House, posed for photographs with presidents, corresponded with presidents, or received presidential awards. Music has often played a role in presidential campaigns, as musicians and poets wrote songs—or added new lyrics to old songs—to promote the candidate of their choice. Not all of these candidates were real; Harold Rome composed a musical comedy, That’s the Ticket, about a frog running for president!
Our title, Hail to the Chief, is of course borrowed from the march customarily played for the entrance of a president. Its famous melody originated in James Sanderson’s setting of a passage from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. This celebrated poem also gave rise to other notable musical works, including songs by Schubert and an opera by Rossini.
The Gilmore Library’s collections contain dozens more presidential items that could have been selected, had we the space for a larger exhibit. We have tried to make our display as politically inclusive as possible: it features materials relating to Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, as well as First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalynn Carter, and Nancy Reagan.