U.S. presidents who played musical instruments

U.S. presidents are typically famous – or infamous – for their policy decisions or notable quotes. However, many past presidents also had musical abilities. 


Here are some U.S. presidents who played musical instruments: 

Thomas Jefferson

“Biography of Thomas Jefferson (Third President 1801-1809)” by Tony Fischer Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Third president and Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson called music “the favorite passion of my soul”. He played violin and cello throughout his life. Jefferson claimed that as a young man he practiced three hours a day and performed at weekly concerts at the Governor’s House while studying in Williamsburg, Virginia.


John Quincy Adams

While serving as secretary of state, Adams helped to shape the Monroe Doctrine, a foreign policy that opposes European colonization in the west. He was also an accomplished flutist. He wrote his own songs while attending Harvard, where he participated in the Musical Society of Harvard. 



John Tyler

Before he became the tenth President of the United States, John Tyler dreamed of becoming a concert violinist. He eventually gave up the violin to practice law, but returned to the instrument following his presidency, playing with his guitarist wife, Julia. 


Harry S. Truman 

Truman began taking piano lessons at age 7. His instructor once took him backstage at the Shubert Theatre in Kansas City to meet famous pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski. At age 15, he gave up studying the piano, resigned to focus on work. However, he did occasionally tickle the ivories in his professional life, including playing piano for the Kennedys and their dinner guests in 1961. 

Richard Nixon

“NixonPiano,1962” by Los Angeles Times is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Nixon was able to play five instruments – piano, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, and violin – though he never learned how to read music. His mother had insisted that he practice the piano every day, and in seventh grade he took lessons with his aunt, who had attended the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music. During a 1963 appearance on the Jack Paar Program, the then- Former Vice-President Nixon played a song he wrote. During his presidency, he played “Happy Birthday” for Duke Ellington at the White House.


Bill Clinton 

President Bill Clinton famously plays the saxophone – he famously brought the instrument out on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992 after securing the Democratic Party nomination. Clinton participated in school band throughout his early years, attending band camp in the Ozarks every summer. He even won first chair in the saxophone section for the Arkansas State Band. 


Barack Obama 

The 44th president of the United States, President Barack Obama showcased a talent for singing during his presidency, singing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” at a 2014 fundraiser and then joining an all-star lineup of artists at the White House – including B.B. King and Mick Jagger – to sing the Robert Johnson classic “Sweet Home Chicago”. He also puts out an annual summer Spotify playlist.


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