Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's Music

All this month, an exhibit from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has been on display at Bennett Martin Public Library (where the Polley Music Library is located). The only musical example in the exhibit, Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America, is a copy of an 1864 songsheet, How Sherman's Veterans Took Atlanta. I decided to do a little research to see if Lincoln had any interest in music, since I was pretty sure that he did not make music himself, unlike Presidents Jefferson and Truman. A few of the things I learned are below.

  • Lincoln loved opera and attended something like 19 performances during his presidency.

  • The play Lincoln was watching at the time of his assasination was Our American Cousin, a play with music starring Laura Keene, at Ford's Theater.

  • He loved sentimental ballads, but was strongly affected by them. He also sometimes wanted to hear happy music to cheer himself up.

  • Lincoln especially enjoyed concerts by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the pianist from New Orleans.

  • At the White House, Mrs. Lincoln traded in an older piano for a new one built in 1860 by the Schomacker Company of Philadelphia. That grand piano was prominently placed in Mrs. Lincoln's favorite sitting room, the Red Room. Willie and Tad Lincoln took piano lessons from Professor Alexander Wolowski on that piano.

  • The Lincolns hosted many performances at the White House, including the Native American singer Larooqua, Venezuelan child prodigy pianist Teresa Carreno, the Hutchinsons, and the tiny circus performer Commodore Nutt.

  • Lincoln enjoyed the popular songs of the day, including Dixie.

  • President Lincoln particularly enjoyed the Marine Band. There were band concerts on the White House grounds except for the couple of years when Mrs. Lincoln would not allow them after the death of Willie.

  • Lincoln's funeral ceremony itself did not have music. The Marine Band played to send off the cortege complete with drum corps. As Lincoln lay in state at the Springfield City Hall, a thousand singers were there. A large choir sang as the funeral train arrived in Chicago. And for the burial ceremony, George F. Root composed a tribute to Lincoln.

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