White House ‘Musicales’

The Hoovers continued the tradition, which began during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, of sponsoring concerts or “musicales” at the White House, usually following important dinners or receptions. The Hoovers’ tastes, and therefore the programming, tended toward classical music. Some of the renowned artists who performed at the Hoover White House included opera stars Margaret Matzenauer and Lawrence Tibbet, violinists Jascha Heifetz and Efram Zimbalist, and cellists Alfred Wallenstein and Gregor Piatigorsky. As far as we know, none of the performances were recorded or photographed.

Mildred Dilling

President and Mrs. Hoover started a new tradition that continues to this day – hosting a musicale for a visiting head of state. In April, 1931 King Prajadhipok of Siam and his wife, Queen Rambhai Barni, visited the United States. On April 29, 1931, harpist Mildred Dilling played for the musicale following the formal state dinner.

The tasks of choosing programs and securing artists for the White House musicales were the responsibility, not of a White House staff member, but of Henry Junge at Steinway & Sons piano company.  Mrs. Hoover was not very enthusiastic about continuing the arrangement, which had started almost 30 years earlier. She confided to friends that she thought it embarrassing that the artists were not paid, and that a private company was responsible for the arrangements and expenses. The White House entertainment budget, however, was very limited, so Mrs. Hoover was prepared to pay for the musicales out of her own pocket. (Actually, the Hoovers spent over $600, 000 of their own money on various expenses that were not covered by appropriations, and donated Mr. Hoover’s entire salary to charity – but that’s another story.)  White House personnel begged her not to end the arrangement with Steinway because previous Presidents, and possibly future Presidents as well, could not afford to pay for the musicales out of pocket.

As time passed, however, Mrs. Hoover became dissatisfied with the programs and artists provided by Mr. Junge. Mrs. Hoover preferred American musicians, but Junge often scheduled foreign artists who were visiting the United States. Mrs. Hoover also complained that Junge sometimes had to switch programs at short notice when the originally scheduled artists backed out. Mrs. Hoover attempted, through some friends in New York, to quietly and diplomatically end the relationship with the Steinway & Sons, but the company, and Mr. Junge personally, were so proud of their role and so emotionally invested, that severing the arrangement would have been profoundly embarrassing. So Mrs. Hoover acquiesced, and Mr. Junge continued to arrange the musicales throughout the Hoover Administration.

Programs, guest lists, and other documentation for many of these musicales are preserved in the Lou Henry Hoover Papers at the Hoover Library.

One thought on “White House ‘Musicales’

  1. The Eisenhower’s also hosted several musicales during their eight years at the White House. A small sampling just from 1957 includes one for the Vice-President and the Cabinet on February 4, 1957 at which the performers were members of “The District of Columbia Chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. ” (the name alone took up most of the program!); one on May 8th for President Diem of Vietnam at which Arthur Rubenstein was the attraction and on October 17th Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians (a favorite of Ike’s) entertained Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Two years later, on March 17, 1959, Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians were back as they performed for a musicale held for the President of Ireland.
    –Kevin Bailey, Reference Archivist, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library

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