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A President Who Loved Country Music

Happy President’s Day! Today we honor a President who loved Country Music. On March 16, 1974 President Richard Nixon appeared at the new home of The Grand Ole Opry, The newly built Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland.  The King of Country Music, Roy Acuff welcomed the president on stage with a little singing and a yo-yo lesson.

National Archives, Getty Images News

Through the years, the Grand Ole Opry has seen many political figures and celebrities take in a show or appear on the historic stage.  On this President’s Day 2013, I thought it would be fun to remember a President who loved Country Music so much that he not only made a trip to the Opry, but he would eventually proclaim the month of October as Country Music Month.

As we set the stage in 1974, Roy Acuff introduces the President.  First, they sing Happy Birthday to Mrs. Nixon.  Then, Roy gets out his signature yo-yo and shows the President how he works his magic on stage.   After a few laughs, the President addresses the crowd with this statement about Country Music and America!  According to the American Presidency Project, Mr. Nixon said

Thank you very much, Roy Acuff and to all of our distinguished guests, the Governors, the Senators, the Congressmen–and everybody, of course, in this audience is distinguished on this first-nighter for the opening of the Grand Ole Opry in its new home.

National Archives, Getty Images News

I find it very difficult to find the adequate words to say what this particular evening means to me personally and, of course, to my wife Pat. But one thing that Governor Dunn was telling me was that people come, he said, from hundreds of miles–he says, as a matter of fact, they come from all over America–just to be here at the Grand Ole Opry performances.

I think tonight a record has been established, because my wife left Brasilia 9 hours ago. She flew 5,000 miles to get here. And Howard Baker tells me that they have a Grand Ole Opry House now in London, right out at the airport, called “Nashville,” so it has reached there. We will be exporting it to other places, I am sure. I mean, somebody was telling me that there is only one thing stronger than country moonshine and that is country music.

I saw a couple of fellows outside that were combining the two, and believe me, it was plenty strong.

Speaking in a very serious vein, though, I want all of our friends here in this opening night, and those listening on radio and television, to know what country music has meant to America and, I think, also to the world.

First, country music is American. It started here, it is ours. It isn’t something that we learned from some other nation, it isn’t something that we inherited, because we Americans, of course, come from all over the world, in a sense. And so, it is as native as anything American we could find.

Country music also has a magnificent appeal all across the country. It is not regional. Before we had country music at the White House–and you know we brought it there on many occasions–we had some very sophisticated audiences there listening to the great stars, opera stars and all that sort of thing, and then Johnny Cash came and he was a big hit at the White House, and Merle Haggard came and he was a big hit at the White House–[applause]–go ahead, go ahead, he is probably listening–and Glenn Campbell, Roy Acuff.

National Archives, Getty Images News

Let me tell you something about that POW night. We had some fine Hollywood stars, you know, singing some of the more modern music that is–well, it is a little hard to understand. I mean, well, I was going to say a moment ago, you have a tendency to pay a little more attention to what the girls are not wearing than hearing the music, but you did a little of that tonight here, too, I can see. But she could sing, she could sing.

But I wanted to tell you something, that I was sitting at that historic evening when these magnificent men who had served the United States in Vietnam and who had been prisoners of war were being entertained at the White House–the largest dinner ever held at the White House–and I was sitting at a table with six of them and their wives.

All six of them had been in prison for 6 years or more, and all of these stars went on, the modem stars and the older stars and the rest, and the new types of music and the rest. The one that got the biggest applause was Roy Acuff.

And I asked one of them, I said, “You know, that is rather curious that you would find that music the one you liked the best.” And they said, “Well, you have got to understand, we understood it.” They knew it. In other words, it went back a few years, but they understood it, and it touched them and touched them deeply after that long time away from America.

What country music is, is that first it comes from the heart of America, because this is the heart of America, out here in Middle America. Second, it relates to those experiences that mean so much to America. It talks about family, it talks about religion, the faith in God that is so important to our country and particularly to our family life. And as we all know, country music radiates a love of this Nation, patriotism.

Country music, therefore, has those combinations which are so essential to America’s character at a time that America needs character, because today–one serious note let me tell you, the peace ,of the world for generations, maybe centuries to come, will depend not just on America’s military might, which is the greatest in the world, or our wealth, which is the greatest in the world, but it is going to depend on our character, our belief in ourselves, our love of our country, our willingness to not only wear the flag but to stand up for the flag. And country music does that.

And so, I express appreciation to this great audience, to all the performers whose time I have taken–my apologies to those who would have had the commercial. However, I wanted to take this opportunity on behalf of all the American people to thank country music, those who have created it, those who make it, those who now will have it continue in the future, for what it does to make America a better country, because your music does make America better. It is good for Americans to hear it. We come away better from having heard it.

I wonder how many standing ovations interrupted his speech?


 

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