As the nation celebrates his 99th birthday, we look back at the musical passion of President Jimmy Carter
Throughout American history, virtually every presidential administration has, in some way, impacted music by inviting artists to the White House. According to Elise K. Kirk, author of "Music at the White House: A History of The American Spirit," "more American music has been performed at the White House than any place, even Carnegie Hall or the Kennedy Center."
According to Kirk's research, Abraham Lincoln loved opera so much (his favorite was Gounod's Faust), that he brought the first opera singer to perform at the White House. Through time many presidents have made an impact on the arts.
Teddy Roosevelt brought the first grand piano, a lavish Steinway to the White House, and the Kennedy's brought entire organizations, such as the Washington National Opera, American Ballet Theater and Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra to America's home. Read more of Kirk's presidential discoveries.
Fast forward to the late 1970s and the term of President Jimmy Carter, who we recognize as the longest-lived president and the one with the longest post-presidency, during which he has had a powerful impact on so many humanitarian organizations and projects.
During Carter's Presidential campaign, Americans heard of his fondness for songs by Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers, as well as his affinity for country and western music and religious ballads, often heard on the radio in Georgia.
So it was with somewhat of a surprise that, once taking office, people learned that President Carter had a much broader musical appetite. There is significant documentation that President Carter loved classical music so much that he would spend 8 to 10 hours a day listening to concert music and opera, beginning around 7a.m. He handpicked a large selection of classical recordings from the White House collection that were kept just outside the Oval Office along with a turntable and amplifier, easily accessible by his personal secretary, Susan Clough who put on music which was piped into the President's study throughout the day.
Some of Carter's favorites included music by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Copland and Schumann. He also loved guitar recordings by the great Andrés Segovia, and opera like Puccini's Madame Butterfly and Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.
Music was an important component of White House receptions, state dinners and other such events. At one event, while the musicians were playing, people were mingling around and conversing. President Carter later went to the musicians and promised that he would invite them to the White House again to hear them perform, saying that "next time, everyone would be perfectly quiet." After a similar event, when the President apologized to the musicians (the Julliard Quartet) for not being able to give them his undivided attention, they responded with an impromptu performance of the Adagio movement from Haydn's Op. 20, No. 1, which the President and his wife Rosalynn sat down and listened to intently.
Here is the Attacca Quartet performing that movement by Haydn for a live performance at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New York City, on January 13, 2011.
President Carter is also credited with working with PBS (Public Broadcasting System) to develop a five-part series of performances which would be taped at the White House. Author Elise Kirk recollects that "The relationship he started with PBS is a milestone in the country's music history," laying "the groundwork that would become In Performance at the White House.
Learn more about President Jimmy Carter's love of classical music at these links: