Top 10 Musical U.S. Presidents

"The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music."

- Gerald Ford

Today is President's Day, and if you'll think back to high-school U.S. History, you'll remember that potential Commanders In Chief must be at least 35 years of age, natural-born American citizens and permanent residents in this country for at least 14 years. Musical talent is nowhere on that list, but that unfortunate fact hasn't stopped several tunefully gifted men from taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some of them may surprise you. Herbert Hoover, 19th-century balladeer?

10. Barack Obama: Although our current chief executive's own musical gifts have so far been limited to some pretty lyrical speeches, he became the first Grammy winner to be elected president after taking home Best Spoken Word Album in 2007 for his memoir Dreams From My Father. (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton won the same award, but after leaving office.) The Prez is also buddies with Jay-Z and Beyonce and, according to People magazine, has a soft spot for Dylan's Blood On the Tracks and Springsteen's Born To Run.

9. Lyndon B. Johnson: Like many other future presidents, the greatest Texan to ever sit in the Oval Office's schoolboy pursuits leaned more toward debate and journalism than music. Nevertheless, while he was Senate Majority Leader - the best ever, according to many historians - he, no doubt indelicately, pushed through legislation that somehow made it legal for him to purchase a handful of Austin radio stations while still in office, albeit technically in his wife's name. Today, KLBJ-FM has enjoyed a long run as one of the Southwest's leading rock stations, and its namesake also signed the National Endowment for the Arts into existence in 1965.

8. Woodrow Wilson: The staid, professorly League of Nations founder was a member of the Virginia Glee Club in his younger days, as well as a somewhat accomplished violinist. Small wonder, then, that according to Edward Spann and Michael E. Williams' book Presidential Praise: Our Presidents and Their Hymns, he said "Music now more than ever before is a national need" at the height of World War I.

7. Herbert Hoover: Hoover is generally thought of as one of the most personality-free presidents of all time, perhaps because not a whole lot of people know he wrote the following rather ribald lines to an Austrailian barmaid while a twentysomething gold-mining engineer in the late 1800s: "I have fought my fight and triumphed, on the map I've writ my name/ But I prize one hour of loving, more than 50 years of fame. " These words were published the 1965 volume Great Australian Folk Songs; read the entire story here.

6. John Quincy Adams: The only son of a president to hold the same office as his father until Jan. 20, 2001 studied the flute at Harvard in the 1780s - not very well, by his own admission in a diary entry you can bid on here: "I am extremely fond of music, and by dint of great pains have learnt to blow very badly the flute. But could never learn to perform upon the violin, because I never could acquire the art of putting the instrument in tune."

5. Harry S. Truman: "Give 'Em Hell Harry" practiced the piano for a solid two hours a day until age 15. He continued tickling the ivories in the White House, when not firing unruly generals, desegregating the armed forces and fending off both Thomas E. Dewey and errant Chicago Tribune headline writers.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray