John F. Kennedy wasn't the first U.S. president to show an appreciation for classical music or the first to host performers at the White House: John Adams brought the Marine Band to the executive mansion in 1801. Over a century later, Theodore Roosevelt provided a stage for names like Ignacy Paderewski and Ferruccio Busoni.
But President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy together brought a particular zeal to hosting musicians and arts leaders during their three short years in the White House, and in many ways, set the stage for the cultural explosion of the 1960s and '70s.
The First Couple honored Igor Stravinsky with a special dinner in 1962, and persuaded Pablo Casals to come out of exile for a special chamber music recital a year earlier. There was also Elizabethan music played by a period-instrument group, and Copland’s Billy the Kid, presented on a velvet-mounted stage in the East Room by the American Ballet Theater.
Kennedy himself wasn’t particularly music savvy. His wife reportedly had to cue the young president on when to applaud at concerts. But he labored to raise the arts in the public's consciousness, inviting the poet Robert Frost to speak at his inauguration, and later declaring in a speech at Amherst College: "I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft."
Kennedy had a friendly relationship with several artists including Leonard Bernstein, who wrote a brief Fanfare for the Inauguration in 1961, and later dedicated his "Kaddish" Symphony "To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy."
Bernstein's symphony was one of many musical tributes that poured in after the news of Kennedy's assassination broke. They represent a wide assortment of styles, from solemn choral pieces to spiky piano sonatas. Below is a timeline of Kennedy's involvement with classical music. Please share your own Kennedy moments in the comments box below.