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During the administrations of John Tyler, James Knox Polk and Zachary Taylor, guest performers entertained at the White House with increasing frequency. Most often they were folk singers, whose music reflected the growing political and social unrest of the era. Tyler was the first of seven presidents who would hear the famous Hutchinson Family Singers in the decades ensuing. A stirring symbol of the Yankee spirit in music, the Hutchinsons expressed their genuine concern for human misery and social reform in subjects involving woman’s suffrage, alcohol, war, prisons, and especially slavery. A similar group, the Baker Family, sang songs with a more sentimental than social message for President Zachary Taylor and his family in 1849. But perhaps the most moving musical expression at the White House during these years was the program given by thirty blind and deaf-mute children for President Polk in 1846, proving that music as a mystical language could fortify the spirits of those who knew no other means of communication.

Landmark Era Performance - 1844: President John Tyler was accompanied by Hail to the Chief after First Lady Julia Gardiner Tyler instructed the Marine Band to play it whenever the president made an official appearance. The piece evolved into a presidential entrance tribute during James K. Polk’s administration (1845-1849).

Hutchinson Family Singers.

Library of Congress

Footnotes & Resources

Elise Kirk, Musical Highlights from the White House, 30-33.

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