Presidential Performances

Young musicians often dream of playing sold-out venues all over the globe and some may say there is no venue more prestigious than the White House. Since the White House became the official residence for sitting U.S. Presidents in 1800, music has been at the heart of celebrations within this iconic home. Whether one hears the brass of the “President’s Own” United States Marine marching band or the tinkling of the ivories on the picturesque Steinway piano located in the East Room, the Presidential domain has the potential to be one of the most coveted and exclusive venues in the world.

The NAMM Oral History Collection has been able to document several stories of musicians who have played at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the first of three featured here is that of Don Carr. Don is currently a content provider for Sweetwater Sound, spent 23 years (1991-2014) playing guitar for the Oak Ridge Boys. The Oak Ridge Boys first Presidential encounter happened during the Reagan administration and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was introduced to the group and it became a friendship that would endure throughout the remainder of Bush’s life. During Bush’s time as President (1989-1993), Don and the Oak Ridge Boys performed Amazing Grace during Bush’s inauguration. Even though Don left the Oak Ridge Boys in 2014, the remaining members of the group were able to perform Amazing Grace one final time at Bush’s funeral service in 2018.

An additional encounter with the Oval Office comes from Play Music – Enjoy Life founder, Rick DePiro. DePiro started touring at age 20, playing the keyboards, organ, piano, and honing his talents as a singer-songwriter. DePiro was able to visit and play at the White House twice during the Clinton administration (1993-2001); one of which included a private concert for the President and First Lady.

The final feature is that of drummer Harold Jones. Harold toured with greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Sarah Vaughn. Harold was once even touted as Count Basie’s favorite drummer by Basie himself! It is almost no surprise then that Harold has had the privilege to play at the White House on five separate occasions, the first of which occurring in 1962 during the Kennedy administration (1961-1963).

Dan Del Fiorentino
Music Historian