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Classical 101

Firsts in the Arts

Return to Camelot Music of the Kennedy White House
WOSU Public Media

“The first American President to give art, literature, and music a place of dignity and honor in our national life.” --Lewis Mumford 

Many notable arts milestone at the White House occurred during the Kennedy administration. These included:

  • Robert Frost was the first poet to participate in official inaugural ceremonies at the Capitol.
  • The Air Force Academy Band appeared initially in Kennedy’s inaugural parade, and the parade was televised in color for the first time.
  • The Kennedy inauguration was the first to celebrate with five balls.
  • The Kennedys were the first to hold arrival ceremonies for state visitors on the White House grounds. They established the tradition of rotating the four service bands (Marine, Army, Navy, and Air Force) for White House arrivals.
  • The Kennedys originated the practice of photographers capturing White House entertainment. Kennedy appointed August Heckscher the first White House Cultural Coordinator in February, 1962.
  • John Kennedy pioneered the White House jazz concert with the Paul Winter Jazz Sextet on November 19, 1962.
  • Kennedy inaugurated the Presidential Medal of Freedom for musicians. On July 4, 1963, he honored cellist Pablo Casals, pianist Rudolf Serkin, and contralto Marian Anderson.
  • John and Jackie Kennedy instituted the practice of holding state dinners in historically and culturally important locations outside the White House. Mount Vernon received the honor of hosting Mohammad Ayub Khan, president of Pakistan, early in the Kennedy administration.
  • The first and last major entertainment to be held at the Kennedy White House featured the bagpipes, an instrument appealing to the President’s Irish heritage.