Hail to the Chief

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Hail to the Chief

Personal anthem of the
president of the United States
Lyrics Albert Gamse
Music James Sanderson, 1812
PublishedMay 8, 1812
Audio sample
Four ruffles and flourishes followed by "Hail to the Chief" (as would be played for the U.S. president), played by the U.S. Navy Band's ceremonial band

"Hail to the Chief" is the personal anthem of the president of the United States, adapted by James Sanderson from an original Scottish Gaelic melody. [1] [2]


The song's playing accompanies the appearance of the president of the United States at many public events, it is also played at inauguration ceremonies. [3] For major official occasions, the United States Marine Band and other military ensembles are generally the performers, so directives of the United States Department of Defense have, since 1954, been the main basis for according it official status. [4] It is preceded by four ruffles and flourishes when played for the president. The song is also played during a former President's state funeral after the casket is removed from the hearse. [5] As it originated in the 19th century, the song is in the public domain due to its age.


Verses from Sir Walter Scott's 1810 narrative poem The Lady of the Lake , including "The Boat Song" ("Hail to the Chief") with which the clan welcomes the arrival by boat of their chieftain Roderick Dhu, were set to music around 1812 by the songwriter James Sanderson (c. 1769 – c. 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 19th century: [4]

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honored and blessed be the ever-green Pine! [4]

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, an indication of great popularity. [6]

Association with the president first occurred in 1815, when it was played to honor both George Washington and the end of the War of 1812 (under the name "Wreaths for the Chieftain"). [4] On July 4, 1828, the U.S. 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. [7] Andrew Jackson was the first living President to have the song used to honor his position in 1829, and it was played at Martin Van Buren's inauguration in 1837. [4] Julia Tyler, second wife of John Tyler, requested its use to announce the arrival of the president. [4] Her successor as first lady, Sarah Childress Polk, encouraged its regular use in this manner after it was used at James Polk's inauguration; William Seale says, "Polk was not an impressive figure, so some announcement was necessary to avoid the embarrassment of his entering a crowded room unnoticed. At large affairs the band ... rolled the drums as they played the march ... and a way was cleared for the President." [4]

During the American Civil War (1861–1865) the piece was also used to announce the arrival of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. On October 3, 1861, Davis visited with Generals P. G. T. Beauregard, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and Gustavus Woodson Smith at Fairfax Court House (now Fairfax, Virginia) for a Council of War. While at Fairfax, President Davis also conducted a formal Review of the Troops, which numbered some 30,000. At the start of the review, the band of the 1st Virginia Infantry struck up "Hail to the Chief" and concluded with "Dixie". [8]

President Chester A. Arthur did not like the song and asked John Philip Sousa to compose a new song, which was entitled "Presidential Polonaise". After Arthur left office, the Marine Band resumed playing "Hail to the Chief" for public appearances by the president. [9]

In 1954, the Department of Defense made it the official tribute to the president. [4] [10] The 1969 hit anti-Vietnam war single, "Fortunate Son", by the American rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival, specifically named "Hail to the Chief" when referring to patriots and jingoists.

In his 1990 Broadway musical Assassins , composer Stephen Sondheim uses variations on "Hail To The Chief", most notably in the opening of the show where he switched it from its "traditional march beat into 3/4 time, a carnival waltz" to emphasise " its more sinister elements". [11]


Sheet music for the song whose tune became the presidential fanfare, with the melody, on the middle staff, carried by "First Voice" Hail to the Chief Chorus Sheet Music.png
Sheet music for the song whose tune became the presidential fanfare, with the melody, on the middle staff, carried by "First Voice"

Lyrics that were written by Albert Gamse are set to James Sanderson's music, but they are rarely sung.

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 is our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!

The original lyrics, written by Sir Walter Scott, read:

Hail to the chief, who in triumph advances,
Honour'd and blessed be the evergreen pine!
Long may the tree in his banner that glances,
Flourish the shelter and grace of our line.
Heaven send it happy dew,
Earth lend it sap anew,
Gaily to bourgeon and broadly to grow;
While every Highland glen,
Sends our shout back again
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

Ours is no sapling, chance-sown by the fountain,
Blooming at Beltane, in winter to fade;
When the whirlwind has stript every leaf on the mountain,
The more shall Clan Alpine exult in her shade.
Moor'd in the lifted rock,
Proof to the tempest's shock,
Firmer he roots him, the ruder it blow:
Menteith and Breadalbane, then,
Echo his praise agen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

Proudly our pibroch has thrill'd in Glen Fruin,
And Blanochar's groans to our slogan replied,
Glen Luss and Ross Dhu, they are smoking in ruin,
And the best of Loch Lomond lie dead on our side.
Widow and Saxon maid,
Long shall lament our raid,
Think of Clan Alpine with fear and with woe.
Lenox and Levon Glen,
Shake when they hear agen
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

Row, vassals, row for the pride of the Highlands!
Stretch to your oars for the evergreen pine!
O, that the rosebud that graces yon islands,
Were wreath'd in a garland around him to twine.
O, that some seedling gem,
Worthy such noble stem,
Honour'd and blest in their shadow might grow;
Loud should Clan Alpine then,
Ring from her deepmost glen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

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  1. Golby, David J. "Sanderson, James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24625.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. Robert A. Nowlan, Ph.D. (31 January 2016). The American Presidents From Polk to Hayes: What They Did, What They Said & What Was Said About Them. Outskirts Press. p. 63. ISBN   978-1-4787-6572-1.
  3. Hauser, Christine (2017-01-20). "'Hail to the Chief': The Musical Strains of Presidential Power". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Hail to the chief (Song Collection)" in Library of Congress Performing Arts Encyclopedia
  5. "President George H.W. Bush U.S. Capitol Arrival Ceremony | C-SPAN.org". C-span.org. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  6. Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003, p. 108.
  7. "The President's Own" At the White House: Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the United States Marine Band, 1798-1998 (Media notes). United States Marine Band. Washington, DC. 1998.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  8. "Memphis Daily Appeal, October 12, 1861, p. 2, c. 4"
  9. Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003, p. 110.
  10. Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003, p. 109-110.
  11. "Pastiche in Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins": An economical and powerful score".

Further reading