The President’s favorite music
RCA Victor released a one lp anthology during the mid-1950s entitled The President’s Favorite Music; I purchased a copy of it for $2 at a record store in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1966, when Lyndon Johnson was president. Of course, the center of attraction on that record was the 34th former President Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969), not the 36th one.
The cover photo featured the smiling likable Ike and his lovable First Lady Mamie (1896-1979), while the back contained a paragraph of the president stating a batch of cliches about the importance of music in American life.
The contents of the album (which would not have been released without Eisenhower’s approval relayed through his friend, the CEO of RCA Victor, General David Sarnoff (1891-1971)), consisted of two Bach pieces, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, an aria from Verdi’s La Traviata, selections from Porgy and Bess, Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Overture, the Johann Strauss Die Fledermaus Overture and Marian Anderson singing He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands – all of them beautifully performed. It was a record I played many times back when my record collection numbered at 200 discs.
The album listed other favorite pieces of the president but the only one that sticks out in my mind is the Brahms 4th Symphony, one of my top ten favorites.
Eisenhower was also a huge fan of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, a very fine singing group, and he and Mamie watched their TV show every Sunday night.
When it came to books, Eisenhower was an omnivorous reader of Zane Grey westerns and military history, particularly the Civil War. Back in the 1960s, historian Stephen Ambrose was teaching at an obscure community college in rural Louisiana.
One evening, he received a long distance phone call from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On the other end was Eisenhower who was phoning from the farmhouse where he and Mamie had retired. He told Ambrose that he had just finished that author’s book on an obscure Civil War General.
Eisenhower then invited Ambrose up to visit for a few days, to be his official biographer and to grant exclusive access to all of his papers.
Many books have been written about Eisenhower’s World War II leadership as a general and of his presidency from 1953 to 1961. One of the best is Michael Korda’s 2007 biography Ike: An American Hero which is one of the most balanced bios ever written and filled with fascinating anecdotes.
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