Minor Music
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Presidents Who Played Instruments

Presidents’ Day (celebrated on the third Monday in February), was originally established in 1885 in recognition of George Washington. The holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of the 1971 Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.

Wondering how many U.S. Presidents played musical instruments…
According to our research: 13. *

And while George Washington doesn’t make the list, Lincoln does. Check out the others. Some may surprise you.

Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) Third president of the United States, drafted the Declaration of Independence, and played the Violin & Cello.

John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848) The sixth president of the United States formulated the Monroe Doctrine, and played the Flute.

John Tyler (1790-1862) The tenth president of the United States was the first Vice President to be elevated to the office of President by the death of his predecessor, played the violin.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) The sixteenth president of the United States issued the Emancipation Proclamation and played the Violin.

Chester Alan Arthur (1829 – 1886) Became the 21st president of the United States following the assassination of President James A. Garfield. He played the Banjo.

Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) The 32nd President of the United States and the fifth cousin to President Theodore Roosevelt, played the piano and sang soprano in his school choir.

Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924) The 28th president of the United States and creator of the League of Nations, played the Violin and sang tenor in his college glee club.

Warren Harding (1865-1923) The 29th president of the United States organized the Citizen’s Cornet Band, available for both Republican and Democratic rallies. He once remarked that, “I played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet.”

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) The 30th president of the United States was determined to preserve old moral and economic precepts amid American prosperity. He played the harmonica.

Harry Truman (1884 – 1972) The 33rd president of the United States who served during the conclusion of World War II, played the Piano.

Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) The 37th president of the United States, who ended American fighting in Viet Nam and later resigned from office in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, was a classically-trained pianist and also played the accordion.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) The 40th president of the United States implemented the Reagan Revolution, which aimed to reinvigorate the American people and reduce their reliance upon Government. He played the harmonica.

Bill Clinton (born 1946) The 42nd president of the United States and the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term, plays the saxophone.

* We found great info at http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/georgewashington and in the slightly addictive book The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents--6th Edition: Includes Material through 2005 (Complete Book of Us Presidents)

8 Comments to “Presidents Who Played Instruments”

  1. Claudia Gale says:

    i dunno….this morning i was thinking about what a tremendous painter Winston Churchill became……and then I started wondering how many Presidents ever painted….or were “musicians”….because I’m wondering about art and how vital it is to culture…..and OUR culture seems to be getting less and less acculturated, if you will….there is less emphasis on the arts….
    anyway, lol, i started wondering whether our presidents have shown proclivities to being left-brained, or right brained. thank you for the information, as well as for the tremendous chuckle i got out of trying to envision President Lincoln playing the violin. and “silent Cal”, playing the harmonica? he and stevie wonder could have made beautiful music together.
    regardless….thank you so much…..

    claudia gale
    cape cod, massachusetts

  2. […] wondering what Honest Abe would have had on his iPod, NPR can tell you here!) And according to Minor Music, 13 presidents have been listed as having played instruments, including Thomas Jefferson (violin […]

  3. Marcon says:

    The homepage caught my attention. It makes me want to click on things,VERY COLORFUL!

  4. andrew says:

    The homepage makes me wanna know more things about the presidents

  5. Robert says:

    Great resource for Social Studies as well. We forget that the presidents were (are) real people.

  6. Tom says:

    This article could add more information. Most if not all of the early presidents would have likely studied an instrument (including piano) during childhood because music study was generally accepted as something literate, intelligent people did – just not formally in schools until c.1838. If you mean formal music schooling or playing the instruments beyond childhood, this article might be correct.

  7. I was hired years ago to play in a pep band at a political raly in the Gardens at Pittsburgh, PA. Eisenhower and Nixon were running for president and vice-president. As I was taking my tuba out of its cases Richard Nixon approached and asked me what kind of tuba is that? He told me he had played alto sax in junior high but quit to play football. He said he would have enjoyed sitting in the bleachers with the band than sitting on the bench with the other players who never got to play on the team. He said he was never picked to play in a game. He seemed like a very nice person and introduced me to General Eisenhower who said ‘son I hope you are old enough to vote for me in my coming election.’

  8. […] Jefferson had his violin, Truman had his piano, and Clinton had his sax (and I’ve read that Chet Arthur played banjo; just picturing that makes me […]

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