Republican, Democrat or Independent, country music speaks to all of us. The genre captures the universal feelings of love and heartache that those from all walks of life can identify with. Perhaps that’s why a number of U.S. presidents have championed country music over the years. Whether you’re in a red state or blue state, a small town or a big city, country music has a song for you.
In honor of Presidents Day, here are five U.S. presidents who brought a little twang to the White House.
5. Richard Nixon
He’s certainly not the most popular president in history, but Richard Nixon is the only president to ever perform onstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
When the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium to its “new” home at the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974, Nixon was in attendance. Roy Acuff invited the president onstage to perform a piano rendition of “God Bless America.” Later, Acuff famously gave the president an onstage yo-yo lesson.
Two years earlier, Nixon invited Johnny Cash to the White House. While Nixon expected a lighthearted visit and a free concert, Cash had another plan in mind. While Nixon requested Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and Guy Drake’s “Welfare Cadillac,” Cash opted for a few more somber songs.
Cash performed “Man in Black” and “What is Truth,” a protest song that criticized the Vietnam War.
Cash used his moment to speak his mind and stand up for what he believed in. What’s more American than that?
4. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan won a fan in Merle Haggard when he pardoned the singer for crimes he committed when he was a young man. Haggard did time in San Quentin Prison for burglary in the late 1950s. But in 1972, then-California governor Ronald Reagan granted Haggard a full pardon, which Haggard said gave him “a second chance at life.”
Turns out Reagan was a pretty big fan of Haggard, too. Ten years after he was pardoned, Haggard performed at the White House for the president.
3. Jimmy Carter
Being from Georgia, President Jimmy Carter knew a thing or to about country music. During a fundraising event for Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C., Carter spoke of how he grew up listening to country music.
“When I grew up in Plains, Georgia, when we asked for music, we got country music,” Carter explained.
Carter also discussed how country music has told the story of America from generation to generation.
“The good songs were passed down from generation to generation, because they told stories of how ordinary people lived and felt and loved. As people moved to the cities, they wrote different songs about their own new feelings and new experiences, but even in our day country music has remained people music,” Carter said. “Now it’s sometimes composed on kitchen tables or in a hotel room or even riding along in a pickup truck or on Greyhound buses or in an 18-wheeler.”
Carter also named October as “Country Music Month.”
2. George H.W. Bush
President George H.W. Bush caused quite a stir when he attended the 25th annual Country Music Association awards in 1991. President Bush is the first and only president to attend the event. He even appeared at the end of the broadcast to deliver a touching speech praising country music.
“Country music gives us a window on the real world,” Bush said. “It’s easy to see why America loves country music. Country music loves America.”
1. George W. Bush
George W. Bush may be an even bigger country music fan than his father. In 2005, Bush shared what was on his presidential iPod and it was chock full of country music.
The Texan president seems to prefer hardcore traditional country. Alan Jackson and George Jones appeared several times in his playlist. However, he’s not afraid to get left-of-center when it comes to country music. Canadian alternative country-folk band Blackie and the Rodeo Kings also made an appearance on his list, as did the song “El Paso,” by Austin, Texas alternative country band The Gourds.
Last year, President Bush even got a personal serenade from George Strait on his 70th birthday.