Monday, February 21, 2011

Fun Facts: Presidents who Heart the Arts

One thing we can say about the Presidents of the US of A is, they get it.
They get the arts.

Historically, our presidents have always valued the visual and performing arts – it’s why the President awards the National Medals of Arts and the National Humanities Medals each year to hard-working, imaginative pioneers in these fields.

Last February, when President Obama presented these awards, he quoted a story about the most Founding of Fathers, George Washington:
More than 200 years and 25 -- 225 years ago, on February 18, 1784, George Washington sat down at his home in Mount Vernon to write a letter. …the letter Washington sat down to write that day was not about the recent triumph over the British. It was not about what shape a young America might take. Instead, it was a letter to a bookseller. Before requesting a few volumes, Washington expressed a belief –- and I quote –- “to encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”
It seems that since GW, the presidents have followed, supporting the arts in their own way. Especially these stand outs that actually were / are artists!

Ronald Reagon in Knute Rockne, All American (1940)
Everyone in America knows “The Gipper!” Ronald Regan was a Hollywood actor before he ran for Governor of California and later the presidency. He once said, “I don’t know how anybody could be in politics if they hadn’t been an actor!” Looks like he was only following destiny...

William Taft, infamous for being so large he got stuck in the White House bathtub, actually loved to dance.

Turns out Richard Nixon didn’t only play the American people during Watergate (too soon?) he also played the piano! Even more interesting: Nixon played the accordion, which was a favorite of his children’s.

Our second President, Thomas Jefferson, played the violin, cello and clavichord. He was also an architect, and apparently quite distressed that his anonymous entry for the Capitol building came in 2nd place.

Jeff Hiller as John Quincy Adams, 2nd from right
in The Public Theater's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Photo: Joan Marucs

If you’ve been in New York recently, you must have been living under a rock to not hear about Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, or Jeff Hiller’s hilarious portrayal of our 6th president, John Quincy Adams. What didn’t make it into the show aws that Adams was actually a quite accomplished flute player!

Famous for leading us to a World War II victory and building the interstate highway system, Dwight Eisenhower loved to paint. Although not the Rembrandt of his day, he followed colleague Winston Churchill’s lead to take refuge in the visual arts.

Woodrow Wilson, president during World War I and best known for creating the precursor to the UN, the League of Nations, played the violin.

Harry Truman, another war president, played the piano. Often Truman would plan to entertain political figures when they visited the White House. He claimed as a child he practiced the piano for two hours every morning. He once joked that if he had not gone into politics, he would have probably become the “piano player at a bawdy house.”

Bill Clinton plays the tenor saxophone. During his 1992 Presidential campaign, he appeared on the Arsenio Hall show and played “Heartbreak Hotel.” He later auctioned off his saxophone to raise money for AIDS research.

More fun facts:
President Warren Harding played every instrument except the trombone and the clarinet.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt played the organ.
John Tyler played the violin and Calvin Coolidge played the harmonica.

Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy, Teddy Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant all wrote books before or after their time in the White House.

Isn’t it wonderful? The presidents who have led us in and out of wars, depressions and scandal almost half of them have personally valued and participated in the various crafts that we love and devote our time and energy too, whether recreationally or professionally. Makes one feel a bit more proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

1 comment:

  1. Reassuring trivia, but we need more Tafts and Regans to promote Dance and Theatre!