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Grover Cleveland (1885-1889; 1893-1897
Under the leadership of John Philip Sousa, “The President’s Own” performed for the wedding of President Grover Cleveland to Frances Folsom on June 2, 1886.
Cleveland was the only chief executive to be married in the White House and to serve two terms not in consecutive order. President and Mrs. Cleveland particularly enjoyed music by German composer Richard Wagner. While performing Wagner selections during a band concert on the White House lawn, Sousa recalled that “the president stood up and held on to the window as though he were afraid it would get away from him. His pretty young wife sat down facing him, enthralled.”
Quote from Cleveland Daily Telegraph, Nov. 10, 1886, as used in Elise K. Kirk’s book Music at the White House
Image credit: Cleveland Wedding March, 1886, USMB photo
Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
The growing fame of the Marine Band prompted John Philip Sousa to formally request permission of President Benjamin Harrison to take the band on tour. When the president happily agreed, Sousa and the Marine Band embarked on their first national concert tour in April 1891.
In recognition of the Marine Band’s unique role as “The President’s Own,” Marine Band concert tours required White House approval until 1986 when that authority was delegated to the Secretary of Defense and ultimately to the Secretary of the Navy.
Marine Band tours now take place annually in October, when the band frequently performs to capacity crowds throughout the 48 contiguous states.
Image credit: John Philip Sousa at the White House, July 29, 1892, USMB archives
William McKinley (1897-1901)
Marine Band musicians and Captain William H. Santelmann pose for a photo at Marine Barracks Washington, 8th & I Streets, SE, April 1899
In 1899, the Marine Band underwent its most comprehensive reorganization. President William McKinley signed an Act of Congress on March 3 that authorized a leader and a second leader, 30 first-class musicians, and 30 second-class musicians. This act nearly doubled the size of the band and increased their pay. Because of this Act, the band began to attract some of the finest musicians in the country.
Image credit: Marine Band musicians and Captain William H. Santelmann (10th person from the right on the balcony) pose for a photo at Marine Barracks Washington, 8th & I Streets, SE, April 1899, USMB photo
The Marine Band marches during President McKinley's funeral procession in September 1901
The Marine Band marches down Pennsylvania Avenue
in Washington during President McKinley’s funeral
procession in September 1901, USMB photo
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
The Marine Band has always performed music to suit the tastes of each chief executive, their families, and guests. From the earliest days, the band’s repertoire has included popular and patriotic music as well as classical music from the orchestral repertoire. In many cases, the Marine Band performed selections from new operas at the White House either before or very soon after their American premières.
The tradition of musical firsts continued when President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice requested that the band perform Scott Joplin’s new “Maple Leaf Rag.” This youthful request for “jazz music” seemed controversial in its day, but the members of the Marine Band gladly complied. In 1906, the Marine Band provided a very different kind of music for Miss Roosevelt when it performed one of the biggest social events of the day—her White House wedding.
Image credit: Program of music performed in the White House for the wedding of Alice Roosevelt, Feb. 17, 1906, from Marine Band Library Archive
William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
William H. Santelmann led the Marine Band during William Taft’s presidency. Santelmann was Director from March 3, 1898, through May 1, 1927, making his tenure the longest in the U.S. Marine Band's history. Early in his Directorship, Santelmann created a full orchestra from within the band by requiring all new members, as well as all current members with less than nine years of service, to learn a stringed instrument in addition to their wind instrument. After four years of rehearsal, Santelmann was satisfied with the new ensemble and they began performing regularly at the White House in 1902.
Image credit: Marine Band Concert Poster, 1911, USMB photo
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
During World War I, garden parties, musicales, State Dinners, and other social functions were suspended at the White House. In the 1920s, these events resumed along with outdoor Marine Band concerts on the South Lawn. Under President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, weekly orchestra concerts began at Marine Barracks Washington. Summer band concerts occurred weekly at both the Capitol and Sylvan Theater–as they do today–and the enactment of child labor laws ended the practice of enlisting Marine Band music apprentices.
Image credit: The Marine Band performing on the South Lawn at the White House. Saturday afternoon concerts began in the 1840s and continued into Herbert Hoover's administration in the 1930s
Warren Harding (1921-1923)
The U.S. Marine Band at the White House, June 1921.
Having played in bands all his life, President Warren Harding brought to the White House a lifelong love of music. He told friends that he had, at one time or another, played every instrument in the band except the trombone and the E-flat cornet. Harding was known to occasionally join the Marine Band during its White House rehearsals.
Image credit: The U.S. Marine Band at the White House, June 1921, USMB photo
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
When President Calvin Coolidge was unable to attend a special Marine Band concert in 1924, he sent flowers and a personal note that read in part:
The Marine Band has earned for itself a unique place in the affections of the American people, and of all branches of the national defense service. It has not only made a nationally important contribution by popularizing the best music but by generosity and apparently untiring devotion to its art has won for itself a particularly high place in public regard.
Image credit: Marine Band National Tour program cover, 1927, USMB archives
Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
John Philip Sousa directs the Marine Band in his new March, On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed the bill making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem of The United States of America. Before its official designation, the Marine Band often played the popular tune at White House functions, public concerts, and military events.
Image credit: John Philip Sousa directs the Marine Band in his new march, “Royal Welch Fusiliers,” for President Hoover and British Ambassador, Sir Ronald Lindsay, May 12, 1930, USMB photo
John Philip Sousa with President Hoover and the Marine Band at the White House at the dedication of the new March,
John Philip Sousa with President Hoover and the Marine Band at the White House at the dedication of the new march, “George Washington Bicentennial,”
Nov. 20, 1930, USMB photo
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
The Marine Band performed for all four inaugurations of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, 1937, 1941, and 1945. Due to the president’s illness, the 1945 ceremonies were held on the White House portico, and records show that the ceremony took only 14 minutes.
Dr. Elise Kirk, author of Music at the White House, notes, “Perhaps the real ‘unsung hero’ of the FDR White House was the ubiquitous Marine Band. It played for every important State Dinner, reception, birthday, debut, anniversary, and holiday celebration at the White House and for numerous ceremonies within the capital and beyond.” The Marine Band performed a special concert at the White House for President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who was in the capital for a war conference. Despite a pouring rain, FDR and Churchill sat outdoors through the concert, and Churchill sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” along with the band.
Image credit: President Roosevelt and the Marine Band at the dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. April 13, 1945
Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, N.Y.
Harry Truman (1945-1953)
President Truman with Colonel Albert Schoepper and Lieutenant Colonel William F. SantelmannPresident Harry Truman's love of music is well documented. He played the piano and took a special interest in the music selected by Marine Band Director Major William F. Santelmann for performance at the Executive Mansion. At a ceremony on May 9, 1951, in the White House’s Fish Room for the observance of National Music Week, President Truman remarked, “I hope I will always have an appreciation of music, and that you will continue what you are doing to educate our people to love good music. … Whenever we have a banquet here, this gentleman, Major Santelmann, usually plays the music, and he knows what I like and he plays it for me, and I think everybody there enjoys it and that it contributes to the musical education of a great many of the people for whom you have played.”
Image credit: President Truman with Colonel Albert Schoepper and Lieutenant Colonel William F. Santelmann, 1952, National Park Service, White House Liaison’s Office
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
President and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower brought many choral and instrumental groups to the White House, and the Marine Band often was the featured entertainment. President Eisenhower also initiated the concept of roving musicians during dinner, which became known as the strolling strings. The Marine Strolling Strings Ensemble consists of 12 to 15 string players from the Marine Chamber Orchestra supplemented by guitar and accordion. The group frequently performs among the guests during the dessert course at state and social dinners at the Executive Mansion. They play light classics, Broadway and popular music and often tailor the program to honor the president’s special guests.
Image Credit: The Marine Band performs as President Eisenhower dedicates the
National 4-H Club Foundation headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md., on June 16, 1959. Courtesy of William W. Campbell III/National Geographic Society
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
The Marine Band leads the funeral procession for President Kennedy, Nov. 25, 1963President John F. Kennedy’s personal affection for the Marine Band was expressed when he remarked, “The Marine Band is the only force that cannot be transferred from the Washington area without my express permission and, let it be hereby announced that we, the Marine Band and I, intend to hold the White House against all odds.” Because of its unique relationship with the first family, Mrs. Kennedy requested the Marine Band lead the president’s funeral procession through Washington.
Image credit: The Marine Band leads the funeral procession for President Kennedy, Nov. 25, 1963, Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
Arrival ceremony for President Kennedy, 1963
The Marine Band with President Kennedy during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, 1963
Mrs. Kennedy singing along with members of the Marine Band at a farewell reception for White House Social Secretary Letitia Baldrige, May 29, 1963
Mrs. Kennedy singing along with members of the Marine Band at a farewell reception for White House Social Secretary Letitia Baldrige, May 29, 1963
John F. Kennedy, Jr. plays with Marine Band Assistant Director Captain Dale Harpham at John, Jr.'s birthday celebration, Dec. 5, 1963
John F. Kennedy Jr. plays with Marine Band Assistant Director Captain Dale Harpham at John Jr.’s birthday celebration, Dec. 5, 1963
President Kennedy at a State arrival ceremony, 1963
President Kennedy at a State arrival ceremony, 1963
All images courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s leadership, the Marine Band frequently provided the accompaniment for famous entertainers performing at the White House. Reflecting on her years in the White House, Lady Byrd Johnson wrote,
“The band of the presidents was never less than totally professional, and always gave more than a full measure of time and talent to perfect their performances. Lyndon and I were deeply proud to present them as a national showcase to visitors from home and abroad.”
Image credit: “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band serenades President Johnson and family from the White House grounds on his last day in office, Jan. 19, 1969. Courtesy of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin, Texas
Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Marine Chamber Orchestra performing for President Richard Nixon brought Marine Band musicians with him for two important visits abroad. In 1970, he took the Marine Chamber Orchestra to the former Yugoslavia to provide music during a dinner for President Josip Broz Tito. In 1974, a string ensemble accompanied the president to the former Soviet Union. President Nixon said of the band, “During my years of service as vice president and president, I have never failed to be proud of this splendid musical organization. Foreign visitors have often remarked to me that they felt it was the finest organization of its kind in the world. Thomas Jefferson is remembered for the Declaration of Independence and his other contributions. One of his least known and most delightful legacies is ‘The President’s Own’ Band.”
Image credit: Marine Chamber Orchestra performing for “Evenings at the White House,” 1973, Courtesy of the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library
Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)
During Gerald Ford’s administration, the Marine Band performed for many White House events, including the visit of Queen Elizabeth II during the nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. President Ford recalled memories of the Marine Band during his 28 years of public service in Washington, writing, “the excellence of their performance makes them a welcome and important part of State functions. The Marine Band deserves every recognition and accolade they receive.”
Image Credit: President Ford and Queen Elizabeth II dance to the music of the Marine Dance Band in the State Dining Room, following a State Dinner on July 7, 1976. Also dancing are first lady Betty Ford with Prince Phillip, and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Mrs. “Happy” Rockefeller.
President Ford takes the microphone during a dance with first lady Betty Ford in after-dinner dancing at a State Dinner. Aug. 3, 1976
Following dinner, President and Mrs. Ford encounter the Marine Band in the Grand Entrance Hall. President Ford had arranged a surprise party for her to celebrate the end of their administration. The White House staff and their wives emerged from behind the darkened columns, the band began to play, and all danced to “Thanks for the Memories.” Jan. 18, 1977
All images courtesy of the Gerald Ford Presidential Library & Museum, Ann Arbor, Michigan
James Carter (1977-1981)
President Carter listening to a Marine Band harpist with Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, 1977President Jimmy Carter, an admirer of classical music, had Marine Band musicians perform for a variety of events, including a special South Lawn performance of music by composer Marvin Hamlisch. Following this performance, President Carter told the audience, “The only problem is that Mr. Hamlisch wants to take my Marine Band back with him. He can’t have them!”
Image credit: President Carter listens to Marine Band harpist Gunnery Sergeant James Pinkerton with Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, March 21, 1977, Courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
In remarks recorded for a radio broadcast celebrating the Marine Band’s birthday and 185 years of White House musical support, President Ronald Reagan spoke about the history and traditions of the Marine Band:
We can only imagine the scene in the White House 185 years ago today when Marine Band musicians gathered to serenade President John Adams and his guests. Our nation had not yet marked its 25th birthday, but already an American identity had begun to emerge–one founded and steeped in the ideals of our forefathers. And those ideals found voice in the stirring music of the Marine Band.
One of my most vivid memories about the band is from my second inaugural ceremony. The bitterly cold weather forced us to move the ceremonies indoors to the Rotunda of the Capitol. Hearing the music of the Marine Band in that great symbol of our democracy gave new meaning to words I had chosen for my inaugural address. I closed my address by recalling echoes of our past–from winters at Valley Forge, through the struggles of the Civil War, the calls of fighters at the Alamo to the song of an American settler echoing into the distance as he pushed west to claim this new land. I called this the American sound, our heritage and our song. For 185 years the White House has been filled with our most American of sounds, the music of the United States Marine Band. Congratulations to you, I am proud to call you “The President’s Own.”
Image credit: On Jan. 18, 1989, two days before President Reagan left office, Director Colonel John Bourgeois presented him with a Hohner Marine Band harmonica as a gift from the Marine Band, USMB photo
George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
President and Mrs. Bush dancing to the music of the Marine Band, 1991.During President George H. W. Bush’s administration, the Marine Band led returning Marine Corps veterans of Operation Desert Storm in the National Victory Parade in New York City. The Marine Band also joined President Bush at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Korean War Memorial. Remembering such events, the president later wrote of the Marine Band, “Your music inspired me and often made me shed a tear of gratitude for those who serve our nation in uniform.”
Image credit: President and Mrs. Bush dancing to the music of the Marine Band, 1991, Courtesy of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
President Bush receives a birthday surprise while listening to the Marine Band, June 12, 1989.
President Bush receives a birthday surprise while listening to the Marine Band, June 12, 1989, Courtesy of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
William J. Clinton (1993-2001)
President Bill Clinton’s association with the Marine Band began while he was governor of Arkansas. An avid saxophonist, the then Governor of Arkansas sat in for several selections with the Marine dance band at the 1991 Governor’s Dinner at the White House. The Clintons’ close relationship with the band continued through his eight years as president. For the band’s 200th birthday on July 11, 1998, the President and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a command performance and reception at the White House. They were guests of honor with daughter Chelsea at the band’s gala bicentennial concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
President Clinton has said,
“When I have to leave this job, I’ll miss a lot of things about Washington and the White House—a few things I won’t. But I’ll really miss the Marine Band. It’s a great honor to be around them every day.”
For more than 200 years the Marine Band has set a standard of musical excellence that has enriched the White House and our entire nation. They have been ‘The President’s Own,’ and for me it has been a special honor and a treat. They have stirred the spirits of more people than President Adams could ever have imagined when he signed the bill creating the Marine Band.
- Bill Clinton
Image credit: The Marine Chamber Orchestra performs for a White House reception, July 23, 1997, conducted by then-Assistant Director Captain Michael J. Colburn, USMB photo
Twenty-sixth Director of “The President’s Own” Timothy W. Foley was the first Marine Band Director to be promoted by the President of the United States. He was promoted to colonel in an Oval Office ceremony performed by President Bill Clinton on June 8, 1999.
Courtesy of the White House
George W. Bush (2001-2009)
The Marine Chamber Orchestra performs for a State Dinner in honor of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, May 7, 2007.As President George W. Bush took his second oath of office on Jan. 20, 2005, the Marine Band made its 52nd consecutive inaugural appearance, proudly continuing its mission of providing music for the President of the United States. The Marine Band has marked many important occasions throughout President Bush’s tenure, including the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A Marine Band vocalist performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” to open a service at the Pentagon attended by President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Later that day, Director Colonel Timothy W. Foley led “The President’s Own” in a performance at the former site of the World Trade Center towers in New York. President Bush has said, “This great Marine Band is ‘The President’s Own,’ but it’s also our nation’s treasure.”
First lady Laura Bush also commented, “The United States Marine Band, ‘The President’s Own,’ has been at the side of our Chief Executive throughout American history. In times of triumph, at moments of tragedy, and on days of celebration, the Marine Band has filled this house with music that always hit the right note.”
Image credit : The Marine Chamber Orchestra performs for the State Dinner in honor of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, May 7, 2007, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
President Bush at a ceremony in honor of the six-month anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, March 11, 2002.
President Bush at a ceremony marking the six-month anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, March 11, 2002, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
Barack Obama (2009-present)
On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States in a ceremony on the west front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., with the Marine Band directly beneath the inauguration platform. Conducted by 27th Director Colonel Michael J. Colburn, the prelude included “The Union March,” written by the band’s 14th Director Francis Scala for Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861.
Image credit: On Feb. 11, 2009, the Marine Band performed at the Grand Reopening of Ford’s Theatre marking the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Courtesy of Ford’s Theatre/Reflections Event Photography