Music and the Presidents

Music and the Presidents

On Presidents Day, we celebrate the birthdays of two of the most significant American presidents – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. What many people don’t know is that music, especially the music of their day, was a central passion of their lives.

General Washington’s Army Band

General George Washington


Before serving our nation as its first president, George Washington, one of the great revolutionary generals, had already developed a keen interest in music. During the Revolution, he sent orders to his troops noting that the “music of the army [was] in general very bad” and demanded that his officers make efforts to improve the drum and fife corps or risk demotion and loss of pay.

Although not a musician himself, George Washington inspired some of the earliest American classical music. Prior to his inauguration, the first-known American composer, Francis Hopkinson even dedicated a piece to the president-elect entitled “Seven Songs.”

Honest Abe’s Song of the South

Abraham Lincoln as President

Like Washington, Abraham Lincoln had a profound love of music, and considered it an “unalloyed pleasure.” He attended shows and concerts often, preferring to go alone in order to fully immerse himself in the performance. As a young Illinois lawyer, Lincoln enjoyed the popular music of his day –  country songs and comic ditties that aimed to lift the spirits. Ironically enough, his all-time favorite song was “Dixie,” an ode to the South often referred to as the “Confederate Anthem.” Lincoln loved the song so much he even had it performed upon the announcement of Robert E. Lee’s surrender, noting “that tune is now federal property, and it is good to show the rebels that, with us in power, they will be free to hear it again.”

Though Lincoln was partial to popular tunes, he also had a great love of the opera. During the Civil War Lincoln attended the opera so often that political opponents criticized him for it, but he considered it a necessary release. One particular favorite of Lincoln’s was  Gounod’s “Faust,” especially the famous “Soldiers Chorus.” Lincoln’s love of music was an integral part of his life and gave him much-needed solace during his trying years as president.


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