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John Quincy Adams and Music

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Both John Quincy Adams and his wife, Louisa Catherine, were great devotees of music, and often sang ballads and arias together, while Louisa played the White House American-made Babcock piano, now housed in the Smithsonian Institution. At one of the decade’s most important historic events -- the ground-breaking ceremony for the excavation of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1828 -- the Marine Band played, among other selections, the lilting boat song, "Hail to the Chief," from the popular musical play, The Lady of the Lake after Sir Walter Scott [see more below]. Because John Quincy Adams was present at the ceremony, the occasion marked the first time "Hail to the Chief" was played for a president. The tune has become an important American ceremonial tradition and regularly heralds the appearance of the president at formal events of state today.

Landmark Era Performance - 1828: Derived from an old Gaelic air, Hail to the Chief was already very popular when the Marine Band played it from a barge for the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on July 4 in the presence of President John Quincy Adams.

Sheet music from The Lady of the Lake, c. 1812.

Music Division, Library of Congress