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Before the White House was completed in 1800, President George Washington and his wife Martha lived first in New York City, then Philadelphia. Washington enjoyed the theater and liked to dance, especially the minuet, which he danced with great pleasure at his inaugural ball. Music in the president’s home was an intimate amusement and young Nelly Custis, the president’s musical stepgrandaughter, entertained guests by playing the instruments the president purchased for her. These included a fine five-octave, two manual harpsichord from London and a Dodds pianoforte, one of the first pianos built in America. Musical instruments were among the earliest items purchased for The President’s House and illustrate the importance music played in early American home life.

President George Washington dancing the minuet at his inaugural ball, as shown on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, May 11, 1889.

Library of Congress

Footnotes & Resources

Elise Kirk, Musical Highlights from the White House, 3-8.

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