The History Of 'Hail To The Chief' — A Song Trump Has Not Yet Embraced One perk of the presidency is that it comes with its own anthem. But when it comes to playing "Hail to the Chief," historians might say that Donald Trump is no James K. Polk.
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'Hail To The Chief': Fanfare Sought By Some Presidents, Avoided By Others

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'Hail To The Chief': Fanfare Sought By Some Presidents, Avoided By Others

'Hail To The Chief': Fanfare Sought By Some Presidents, Avoided By Others

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/518333087/518462046" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a tradition that dates back to the early 1800s when the commander in chief enters the room, the U.S. Marine Band starts to play.

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. MARINE BAND PERFORMANCE)

SIMON: They begin with what's called ruffles and flourish. Then...

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. MARINE BAND PERFORMANCE OF JAMES SANDERSON'S "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

SIMON: But in the Trump White House, so far at least, "Hail To The Chief" has been used only sparingly. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The first time the president hears "Hail To The Chief" played for them is right after taking the oath of office. This is from Inauguration Day this past January.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. MARINE BAND PERFORMANCE OF JAMES SANDERSON'S "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

GONYEA: There are no firm rules for when and how much to use the song. In these early days of the Trump administration, we haven't heard it much at all. He did use it during a visit to a Boeing plant in South Carolina. Trump is just as likely though to take the stage to something like this as he did recently at the big Conservative Political Action Conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE USA")

LEE GREENWOOD: (Singing) And I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free.

GONYEA: It's less stately but easier to sing along with. The real tradition of using "Hail To The Chief" goes back to President James K. Polk elected in 1844. Thomas Price is curator of the James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia, Tenn.

THOMAS PRICE: So James K. Polk was not an over-the-top character. He wasn't larger than life.

GONYEA: Polk was not a dashing military figure like some of his predecessors. He wasn't good at oratory nor was he comfortable socializing. Price says first lady Sarah Polk recognized all of that as a potential problem.

PRICE: Sarah Polk mentioned that on occasion he would enter crowded rooms unnoticed.

GONYEA: But the first lady who had a keen sense of how Washington worked had an idea.

PRICE: So wanting to bring some fanfare to the presidency, she had the president's own Marine Band play the song "Hail To The Chief" on certain occasions, and it took off from there as the official presidential anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES SANDERSON SONG, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

GONYEA: The song adapted from an old Scottish tune had been played for earlier presidents but not routinely until Polk.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES SANDERSON SONG, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

GONYEA: Still, "Hail To The Chief's" use is subject to the wishes of any occupant of the White House. Some have despised it. President Chester Arthur even tried to have it replaced. Some have loved it. Now it's Donald Trump's turn to determine how prominent it is on his presidential playlist. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES SANDERSON SONG, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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