Music and Performance

The presidency has been memorialized in nearly every genre of American song. Campaign ditties are written to captivate the voters, blues recordings express racial frustrations and hopes, and Broadway musicals often provide a lighthearted treatment.

An astonishing number of America's premier performers and songwriters have explored the subject. They include Leonard Bernstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Horton, John Philip Sousa, and Irving Berlin. Few of the songs are memorable, but they demonstrate the importance and the visibility of the president.

Sheet Music, "Abraham, Martin, and John"
The assassinations of President John Kennedy in 1963 and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 caused many Americans to wonder how the nation could survive such traumatic events.

"Abraham, Martin, and John," written by Dick Holler in 1968 as a reaction to these acts of violence, captured the country's shock and grief in a manner that made it a constant presence on the airwaves in 1968 and 1969. The song was recorded by Dion, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Jackie "Moms" Mabley.

Sheet Music, “The Road is Open Again”
Symbolized by a blue eagle, the National Recovery Administration was one of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies created in 1933 to lead the nation out of the Great Depression. Hopes were high, in the words of this song, that all workers, “from the plain to the hill, from the farm to the mill” were facing a brighter future.
Record Album, Give 'Em Hell, Harry!
From regional stagings to Broadway productions, exploring the presidency is a popular theme in American theater. In the 1970s and 1980s, small ensembles and one-man plays brought the personalities of presidents like Lyndon Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, and Harry S. Truman to the stage. James Whitmore's stellar performance as Truman is captured in this 1975 recording of Give 'Em Hell, Harry!
Record Album, The First Family
The tradition of lampooning the president extends back to Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Record albums like The First Family, produced in 1962 by Bob Booker and Earle Doud and featuring Vaughn Meader, built on this custom by humorously exploring the speech, style, and personality of John F. Kennedy.