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Hail to the Chief
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Hail to the Chief

"Hail to the Chief" the official anthem of the President of the United States. The song accompanies the President at almost every public appearance. The U.S. Department of Defense made "Hail to the Chief" the official music to announce the President of the United States in 1954.


Though one hears that it was spun off a traditional rowing song of the lake areas of the Scottish Highlands, its London author is not known to have ventured north of the Trent. Verses from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake, including "Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!" were set to music ca 1810 by the songwriter James Sanderson (1769-1841), a self-taught English violinist and the conductor of the Surrey Theatre, London, who wrote many songs for local theatrical productions during the 1790s and the early years of the nineteenth century:

Soldier, rest! thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.''
(The Lady of the Lake, 1810)

Scott's romance was quickly made into unauthorized romantic melodramas. In November 1810, Scott wrote to a friend that "The Lady of the Lake" was being made into a play by Martin and Reynolds in London and by a Mr. Siddons in Edinburgh. About the same time Scott received a letter from a friend and army officer who ended his note with a copy of the music of the Boat Song, "Hail to the Chief."

A version of Lady of the Lake debuted in New York May 8, 1812, and "Hail to the Chief" was published in Philadelphia about the same time, as 'March and Chorus in the Dramatic Romance of the Lady of the Lake'. Many parodies appeared, a sure sign of universal popularity.

On July 4, 1828, the Marine Band performed the song at a ceremony for the formal opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was attended by President John Quincy Adams. The song may have been first played to announce the arrival of the president on March 4, 1837, at Martin Van Buren's inauguration. Or perhaps it was for James K. Polk's, March 4, 1845. Even the U.S. Marine Band is not really sure.

Somewhat earnest words by Albert Gamse are set to the tune, but are rarely sung. Perhaps they lack a certain idiomatic wit and sparkle:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.

Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that's our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!