Hail to the Chief is a march played during Presidential appearances at public events as well as Congressional visits. It is the formal, musical announcement that precedes the President of the United States of America. As directed by the Department of Defense since 1954, the U. S. Marine Band or some other military ensemble performs the air, which is preceded by four ruffles and flourishes.
The song’s history dates back to Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Lady of the Lake, which he’d penned in the early 1800s. Composed of four verses, in the original text, the relevant words from that poem are:
Hail to the chief, who in triumph advances.
Honour’d and blest 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 agen,
Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho!-i-e- roe!
Circa 1812, James Sanderson, a songwriter, violinist, and conductor at the Surrey Theatre in London, England was inspired to set Scott’s words to music. Later, The Lady of the Lake was made into a romantic melodramatic play sponsored by Martins and Reynolds in London.
On May 8, 1812, a version of this play opened in New York City. It featured Hail to the Chief as a march and a chorus. About the same time, the song was published in Philadelphia, thus affording it more popularity.
The song’s association with the Presidency occurred in 1815, when it was played to honor George Washington and the War of 1812. It was then known as Wreaths for the Chieftains.
Andrew Jackson was the first living President to be honored by the song, in 1829. The next time it was played was in 1837, at the ceremonies marking the inauguration of Martin Van Buren. On the Fourth of July 1828, the Marine Band played it during the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, an opening attended by John Quincy Adams.
Growing in popularity, the tune was requested at other Presidential inaugurations, including those of John Tyler and James Polk. Under the Truman Administration, the Department of Defense made it the official tribute to the President.
The original lyrics were changed by Albert Gamse and set to music written by James Sanderson. Although the lyrics follow, the song is rarely sung; it is simply played.
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!
As I type these lyrics by Albert Gamse, I smile when reading words like “cooperation” and “the one.” As Reverend Wright would say, “The chickens are coming home to roost.” I wonder if Albert Gamse had a premonition of things to come in our nation’s capital?
Our founding fathers had envisioned a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, a government that would not sanction royalty to serve as its leaders. But, a rose by any other name is still a rose! Maybe the Presidential tribute should end with a Bronx cheer to remind the incumbent that his term in office is limited.
Imagine the next State of the Union address or other Presidential event when the song is played and sung. Our lawmakers will probably need the assistance of paramedics for help, after choking on their words! Only in America!