Whether singing the national anthem or humming along during the latest concert on the Capitol lawn, a stirring refrain is never far from the House Chamber. This month’s Edition for Educators focuses on the long musical history of the House and its Members.
The George Cohan Congressional Gold Medal
On May 28, 1936, the Committee on the Library reported favorably on H.R. 4641, to award the Congressional Gold Medal to entertainer George M. Cohan. Cohan, a prolific composer, lyricist, and producer, penned hit Broadway songs such as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy.” The first entertainer to receive the medal, he was recognized particularly for his composition of the patriotic songs “Over There” and “A Grand Old Flag.”
The Designation of the “Star-Spangled Banner”
On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed into law a bill that designated the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the National Anthem of the United States. On April 15, 1929, Representative John Linthicum of Maryland introduced to the House, H.R. 14, a bill to make the song penned by Francis Scott Key during the 1814 British siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, the national anthem.
Singing in the House Chamber
Members at the end of the 84th Congress’s first session broke into song to celebrate the impending sine die adjournment. Former page Bill Goodwin recounts joining Representative Coya Knutson of Minnesota in song on the House Floor.
Singing in the Well
The House is often forced to wait on the Senate to formally adjourn. In this clip, former Congressman John Dingell remembers passing the time by singing in the well of the House with Representative Louis Rabaut of Michigan.
Nicholas Longworth of Ohio
Sometimes being Speaker of the House just isn’t enough. In Speaker Nicholas Longworth’s case, he also brought the talents of a violin virtuoso and pianist to the Floor. Society papers of the early 20th century often recounted “Uncle” Joe Cannon’s frequent insistence that Longworth play the piano at his home when visiting. One reporter claimed Longworth could play the saxophone, oboe, and even an accordion.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of New York
Sonny Bono of California
Most know Sonny Bono best by his lengthy entertainment career. Whether singing “I Got You Babe” alongside erstwhile wife Cher or starring on an eponymous show, Bono spent more than thirty years in the spotlight. In 1988, he entered politics with a successful campaign for mayor of Palm Springs, California. After unsuccessfully pursuing a Senate nomination in 1992, Bono won election to the House of Representatives in 1994, where he served until his death in a skiing accident in 1998.
Original Text of Political Poems and Songs
Political songs were a routine part of the campaign trail in the late 19th and early 20th century. These particular poems featured in New Mexican politics, notably in favor of New Mexico delegate Miguel Antonio Otero.
Champ Clark Campaign Button
Speaker Champ Clark adapted a Missouri folk song—often called “The Houn’dawg Song” in the press—as the signature tune of his 1912 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The refrain of the song was interpreted in the press as alternately an expression of Clark’s support of the humblest citizens (a hound being considered a lowly breed) and as an example of his lack of education and rough “Western” manners.
Music Evening at the Capitol Grounds, Washington, D.C.
Beginning in the early 1860s, the Marine Band performed on the East Front lawn of the Capitol every Wednesday during the summer months. Attesting to the popularity of these lively events, news outlets published the programs in advance, and crowds of more than 1,000 attendees were reported.
Poor Little Paper Boy Record
Four years into his House service, Congressman Richard Fulton launched his musical career with this recording of “Poor Little Paper Boy.” He said it was more frightening than giving his first speech in the House.
The Man in Black’s Tribute to the Ragged Old Flag
On June 14, 1977, the Man in Black strode into the House Chamber as if it were the Grand Ole Opry. But music legend Johnny Cash wasn't about to belt out tunes for any ordinary concert. Rather, Cash delivered a moving poem to celebrate the bicentennial of the U.S. flag.
Good Vibrations: In Defense of the Beach Boys
The nation’s birthday annually unites Americans from all walks of life. But when a Cabinet Secretary tried to ban one of the most beloved rock groups of all time from playing a July Fourth concert on the National Mall in 1983, Members of the People’s House mounted a vigorous—and humorous—defense of the Beach Boys’ right to perform.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory