Friday, April 12, 2013

Hail to the Chief

Where did the use of this song for the President come from?  In the CSPAN series, both Julia Tyler and Sarah Polk are credited with its first use and while it probably doesn't matter who gets credit (the historians on the Polk episode pretty much said "who cares?"), its history is still interesting.  I found this article on its history from the Library of Congress and it discusses the different aspects of the two women's use of the song:
It was Julia Tyler, the wife of President John Tyler, who first requested that "Hail to the Chief" be played specifically to announce the President's arrival on official occasions. The tune was included in certain nineteenth century musical instruction books and the future First Lady, Sarah Childress Polk, studied it as a young woman. It was played at her husband James Polk's inauguration but she, perhaps more than others, ritualized its use. As the historian William Seale stated,
Polk was not an impressive figure, so some announcement was necessary to avoid the embarrassment of his entering a crowded room unnoticed. At large affairs the band...rolled the drums as they played the march...and a way was cleared for the President.
The song was actually even used earlier for Presidents as well:
"Hail to the Chief" was first associated with a Chief Executive on February 22, 1815, when it was played (under the title "Wreaths for the Chieftain") to honor both the belated George Washington and the end of the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson was the first living president to be personally honored by "Hail to the Chief," on January 9, 1829. The tune was among a number of pieces played for Martin Van Buren's inauguration ceremony on March 4, 1837, and for social occasions during his administration.    
 

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