Musical moments with U.S. presidents

B.B. King
President Obama's quick duet with B.B. King on the blues classic “Sweet Home Chicago," which took place Tuesday during a White House concert celebrating the blues, gave the nation another sample of his vocal chops.

It also put Pop & Hiss in mind of previous examples of chief executives who have flexed their musical muscle while in office. Here are some highlights:

Barack Obama: The president also crooned the opening line from Al Green's 1971 hit “Let's Stay Together" during at a fundraiser last month at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, demonstrating his glassy tenor before an audience that included the Rev. Al himself. He shook his finger at advisors offstage and told the crowd, “Those guys didn't think I would do it."

George W. Bush: Obama's predecessor was famous for playing his iPod. After his personal playlist—which had been selected by his personal aide, Blake Gottesman—went public in 2005, it revealed Bush's predilection for the music of George Jones, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and the Knack. “No one should psychoanalyze the song selection," Bush advisor Mark McKinnon said at the time, because he said the president mostly plugged into what was dubbed “iPod One" riding his bike around his Texas ranch. “It's music to get over the next hill."

Bill Clinton: Clinton picked up the tenor sax he'd played through high school and college on a number of occasions during his two terms in office, and as a candidate in 1992 on “The Arsenio Hall Show," where he riffs on the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless the Child."

Ulysses S. Grant: Grant was known more for his drinking than his harmonizing, and once said that he knew only two songs: “One is 'Yankee Doodle,' and the other isn't."

Thomas Jefferson: The primary author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the creators of the Constitution of the United States was an avid violinist who played chamber music while studying at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Music, he said, was “an enjoyment, the deprivation of which cannot be calculated."

Jefferson left behind an extensive music library of books and sheet music by Haydn, Handel, J.C. Bach, Corelli, Purcell and many others. It is housed at the University of Virginia.

“Music is invaluable where a person has an ear," Jefferson wrote late in life. “It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life."

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