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Music in the White House

This is National Music Week, and though it wasn’t yet established when Theodore Roosevelt was president, music was prominent during his time in office. Whether in North Dakota or across the nation, he relished leading crowds in singing “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” a favorite of the Roughriders. He was also smitten with America’s traditional patriotic melodies.

TR’s White House repertoire, though, was more symphonic, and unparalleled at the dawn of the 20th century with musical events throughout the year.

Regular Friday night performances in the East Room regaled up to 350 invited guests with the talents of renown musicians.

The now celebrated “Gold Steinway” grand piano with its gilded inlayed decorations was a gift to the White House in 1903 on Steinway’s 50th anniversary. Steinway himself is said to have helped book the talent for the Roosevelts. Thirty-five years later, another Steinway was given to the Franklin Roosevelt White House replacing Teddy’s, which was donated to the Smithsonian,

TR’s concerts featured the first clavichord performance, operas, pianists, and symphony orchestras of worldwide stature. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” was performed there at Alice Roosevelt’s request, thus introducing jazz. Young cellist Pablo Casals performed in 1904. He returned to the White House in 1960 for the Kennedys!

TR was also the subject of hundreds of songs written about him during his life and after his death.

“Nothing can add more to our capacity for healthy social enjoyment than to encourage the formation of societies which by their cultivation of music, vocal and instrumental, give great lift to the artistic side, the aesthetic side, of our nature. That is especially true when we remember that no man is going to go very far wrong if he belongs to a society where he can take his wife with him to enjoy it.”

Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

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