Ike For President

Barak Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton have all used popular songs to further their presidential campaigns in recent years, but this idea is surprisingly not new to American politics.

When I began researching for my final paper, which is about presidential campaign songs, I wanted to gain a broad understanding of these songs and their usage, so I headed to Google. The first song that came up is “I Like Ike.” “I Like Ike” was used for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign in 1952. I wanted to take a closer look at this primary source for my blog post this week because this trend of using a pop song for a campaign song seems to have sprung up from “I Like Ike.”

“I Like Ike” was written by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Irving Berlin in 1950. It was published and performed under the title “They Like Ike,” first appearing in Berlin’s musical, Call Me Madam. The musical is centered around a Washington D.C. socialite-turned-ambassador. The show was a major hit and won a Tony Award for best score. At the time, Eisenhower was not running for the presidency, but Berlin was hopeful that he would.

The original publication of “They Like Ike” from Berlin’s musical “Call Me Madam”

Once Eisenhower announced his candidacy, Berlin switched the lyrics around a bit and changed the title to “I Like Ike.” The song became a cornerstone for the Eisenhower campaign strategy, as the phrase “I Like Ike” was widespread on advertisements, posters, buttons, and even license plates. With the change of a few words, Berlin’s Broadway hit became a driving force in winning Eisenhower’s presidency.

Some of the many forms that “I Like Ike” appeared across America in 1952

The 1952 “remix” used for Eisenhower’s campaign

The song has elements that make for a solid campaign song: a march-like accompaniment and a simple to follow melody line. If I was to take away the lyrics from the sheet music, you or I probably couldn’t tell this song apart from any other written in the lineage of Tin Pan Alley.

After Eisenhower won the presidency, Berlin continued in his role as musical fanboy for Eisenhower, as he would later update the song two more times to “I Still Like Ike,” “Ike for Four More Years,” and “We Still Like Ike.”


P.S. Unfortunately, all versions of “I Like Ike” are still under copyright, so we’re not able to view and compare them, except for the original publication of the campaign song that I was able to attain through The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection.

Primary Sources:

Berlin, Irving. I Like Ike. New York, New York: Irving Berlin Music Corporation, 1952.

Berlin, Irving. They Like Ike. New York, New York: Irving Berlin Music Corporation, 1950.

Secondary Source:

“Irving Berlin ‘They Like Ike’ from Call Me Madam.” Yale University Library: Exhibits at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library: Hail to the Chief: Irving Berlin, “They Like Ike” from Call Me Madam, 2010, www.library.yale.edu/musiclib/exhibits/hail_chief/like_ike.html. Accessed 11 November, 2019.

From Gershwin to Gomez

“Easy to listen to…” 

…were the words used to describe George Gershwin’s works in a 1949 piano faculty recital, according to the Manitou Messenger[1]. That evening, Prof. Joseph Running of St. Olaf College performed a piano concert consisting of all American works. He stated in his interview with The Mess that he is “desperately anxious to be a missionary for the contemporaries.” With this in mind, he programmed White Peacock and Sonata by Charles Griffes, Variations on a Bavarian Dance and The Camptown Races by Paul Nordoff, and the “easy to listen to” Three Preludes for Solo Piano by George Gershwin. (I found a recording of Gershwin, himself, playing them here!)

I took a listen to Gershwin’s Three Preludes, and what struck me is that while they may “easy to listen to” because they make us listeners want to tap our toe, they are not this way because of having a simple harmony or rhythm. In 1986, Leonard Pennario, the American pianist who performed Three Preludes on the LP recording I found in Halvorson Library’s Vinyl Collection, stated that,

“Gershwin’s music is very dear to my heart and is among the most beautiful music ever created.”[2]

People today find Gershwin’s Three Preludes just as beautiful and encapsulating of the American spirit as they did over 60 years ago. Nana Kwame, a Youtube user, commented,

“[They] just give you that ‘New York’ spirit.”[3]

Likewise, Dimitri A. commented on Youtube,

“Simply beautiful. Prelude #1 and #2 always give me the goosebumps. Gershwin was a genius.”[4]

As we’ve learned from readings and discussions in class, not all music that had its origins in Tin Pan Alley has had such long-lasting success. Each of the three movements of Gershwin’s piece are motif- or riff-driven: the first prelude is built upon a blue-note riff, the second is a blues-y lullaby, and the third combines these blues elements and sets them to a Caribbean beat. When I was listening to the LP and reading the YouTube and Mess reviews, I realized that Gershwin’s music contains a kind of “glue” that has influenced the American pop music genre: riffs. This riff-based inspiration is something that can be found in most any popular song to this day. Today’s #1 song on the USA pop charts is Selena Gomez’s Lose You to Love Me… a song that is based upon a riff that the piano opens with.

Because Gershwin’s innovations never departed from American pop music, his music has trained the American music consumer’s ear to find riff-based pieces… easy to listen to.


Primary Sources:

[1] “Running Is All-American In Last of Recital Series.” The Manitou Messenger, May 6, 1949. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://stolaf.eastview.com/browse/doc/45919778.

[2] George Gershwins Song Book & Other Music for Piano Solo, 1986.

Secondary Sources:

[3] “George Gershwin: Three Preludes.” YouTube. YouTube, July 29, 2008. Accessed October 30, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4yLMxaqWIM.

[4] Ibid.

Copland vs. Downes—The Battle Between Musicians and Their Critics in the 1930s

A week in late April 1932 stirred up unexpected controversy between American art music composers and their critics. Yaddo, a five-day conference modeled after European composition festivals, was held to “give leading American composers an opportunity to present their lesser-known works before distinguished audiences.”[1] Yet, not a single music critic came to hear the “strange tunes, in which harsh chords rasped out above brooding harmonies.”[2] And Aaron Copland, one of the leaders in American music composition in the 1930s, was not about to let this incident go unnoticed.

In a letter to The New York Times on May 8, 1932, he wrote:

Copland’s outcry to music critics to take American music seriously prompted Olin Downes to chime in on the discussion. Downes, a music critic for The New York Times, had “considerable influence on musical opinion, although many of his judgments have not stood the test of time.”[3] In an article written in response to Copland’s letter, Downes wrote:


Apart from degrading the quality of new American works, Downes throws Wagner, perhaps the “most German” of all the German composers, into the ring. His comparison of American composers’ treatment versus German composers’ treatment reminds me of discussions we’ve been having in class about the significance of European (mainly German) composers to the identity of American composers. These German “greats” were the cornerstone of the building that is American music. However, following the building analogy, Downes thought Copland and his contemporaries were not building on the grand building that he envisioned American music to be, but rather, they were building a little hut off to the side.

I find myself getting frustrated with Downes’ dismissive attitude towards the new American works of the 1930s. Yet, how easily we Americans can still fall into this trap of constructing an identity for American music in 2019. The question for us is, are we going to continue falling into that trap?


Primary Source:

Copland, Aaron. The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

Secondary Sources:

[1] “COMPOSERS ASSAIL CRITICS AT YADDO.” The New York Times, May 2, 1932. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1932/05/02/100728910.html?pageNumber=13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Olin Downes.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, February 5, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olin_Downes.

[4] Downes, Olin. “The Daily Review Versus the Weekly Essay – The Native Writer’s Opportunities and Merits.” The New York Times, May 8, 1932. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1932/05/08/issue.html.


‘Music for the Masses’

In 1897, the Chicago Book and News Company published a volume of the National Home and Music Journal, a periodical that published music that was thought to embody elements of the national identity so well that they deemed it to be ‘Music for the Masses.’ From taking a look at the types of music they chose to include in these journals, we get an insider scoop into what was found to be “Americanness” in music.

The journal starts off exactly as we might expect, with The Yankee Tourist by H.S. Line and F.S Colburn. There aren’t any recordings available for this song, but one can imagine how it goes from the title. It follows a quarter note-eighth note pattern in 6/8 time, giving the piece a natural lilt.

The publisher then throws something interesting into this collection of ‘Music for the Masses’… a Beethoven piano piece. I hate to point out the obvious here, but Beethoven was not American. He was German. This inclusion shows that in 1897, a German piece of music was considered to be just as American as a piece like The Yankee Tourist.

Then, we are given a piece for mandolin and guitar—seemingly the “folk” piece of the collection. Also included are The Elk’s Two-Step, Treasure of My Heart, and Come Back to Your Mother, Madge (none of which have been recorded). Each piece selected by the editors was meant to highlight a specific aspect of “Americanness” as it stood in 1897. When I look at this collection, I see a journal that only equates the white, European-descendant’s experience with being “American.”

The question of what constitutes as “Americanness” has never gone away. The Washington Post recently published an article discussing what “real Americanness” looks like today. Their conclusion from analyzing a modern study is similar to my conclusion from analyzing a 200 year old publication:

[‘Americanness’] is interwoven through our history and runs deep in our culture. Our hope is that these findings help us understand the particular ways these tensions are manifesting today, and thus the issues we need to confront to address our differences and remember the core values that can bind us together as Americans.”[1]


Primary Source: Colburn, Frank S, R J Hamilton, and Samuel I Osmund. National Home and Music Journal 5, no. 1, 1897. http://webfiles.wulib.wustl.edu/units/music/su pplcat/b10121535.pdf.

[1] Caleb Elfenbein, Peter Hanson. “Perspective | What Does It Mean to Be a ‘Real’ American?” The Washington Post. WP Company, January 3, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/01/03/what-does-it-mean-be-real-american/.


Hymns: The Anthem of the Civil Rights Movement

During the Civil Rights Movement, hymns were used by protestors, white and black alike, as a unifying, peaceful statement. Time and time again, protestors chose to arm themselves with hymns, which is evident in write-ups like the ones below from the Chicago Defender.




These peaceful protests appear to have been so prevalent in the mid-1960’s that they were given their own nickname— “hymn-singing meetings.” I found myself asking the question, “Why hymns?” How did a whole genre of music rise to unify the movement? Why not African American spirituals, or another genre?

An argument could be made that the protestors chose to sing hymns because of their religious significance. The Civil Rights movement, was, after all, based upon largely Biblical ideas (such as loving your neighbor as yourself, and suffering on earth for an eternal reward). The protestors could relate to Jesus who was being sung of in the hymns, such as Jesus Paid It All. He was the minority in a violent government, and He suffered and died a criminal’s death, even though He was innocent. Jesus’ life was a parallel to what many black people were experiencing in the 1960s. They were innocent people suffering and dying in criminal ways. The following excerpt comes from an account of a white man who went into prison to stand in solidarity with innocent black men who were imprisoned.



Hymns also provided a sense of hope for the protestors. Songs like Keep Your Eyes on the Prize and We Shall Overcome demonstrated that they were fighting for a cause larger than themselves, and that they can remain hopeful through the struggles of the present.

While religious motivations and hopeful outlooks played a role in hymn-singing, I don’t believe these were the only reasons hymns became the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights movement. I believe protestors chose to sing hymns because both white and black people found a home-like comfort in singing them side-by-side with fellow protestors. Both groups of people found identity within these tunes. Hymns have roots in aspects of both “white” and “black” culture. Even though these two groups brought very different experiences to the protests, both found a feeling of familiarity from singing these tunes. Amidst the tumultuous times they were living in, hymns unified the individuals’ struggle into a powerful whole.



[1] “Protest Ariz. Bias.” 1963.Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Jul 30, 6. https://search.proquest.com/docview/493976140?accountid=351.

[2] “N. C. Students Protest Bias on Capitol Steps.” 1960.Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Mar 15, 3. https://search.proquest.com/docview/493748886?accountid=351.

[3] “Arrest 52 of 400 Hymn-Singing Sit-Ins Protesting Mich. Bias.” 1963.Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Sep 19, 8. https://search.proquest.com/docview/493990005?accountid=351.

[4] “Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) 1960-69.” Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) 1960-69, n.d.

Blackface Minstrelsy Through a Renewed Perspective

Note from the author: Originally when I found this primary source, I made connections to a phenomenon I had been observing around me in the music industry—“blackfishing.” I went on to research more about what could be called modern-day blackface performing. I referenced Instagram posts and Ariana Grande’s style evolution. This research, while enlightening, drew little from what the primary source had to offer to me.

Now that the course is wrapping up, I realize that the way I approached this primary source was much how I approached this course. When we discussed difficult topics such as blackface minstrelsy, I tried to understand them based off of my own experiences. I can now see that this method is not conducive to gleaning the most knowledge. Thanks to the experiences of this course, when I now approach a new topic or a new primary source, I aspire to draw directly from what it presents to me, instead of forcing it into my perspective. Now, I allow the primary source itself to teach me about the topic.


With this growing perspective, I present renewed thoughts on this primary source…

DeVere’s Negro Sketches[1] was published in 1989 with this cover illustration demonstrating a stereotypical blackface minstrelsy scene. It shows performers with faces unnaturally darkened arranged in a semi-circle, men dressed in dapper outfits while positioning their bodies in angular stances, and of course, an all-white audience in attendance. From analyzing this illustration, we can learn more about common opinions and views of minstrel shows.

The first thing I noticed is that the audience is positioned above the performers… literally. This signaled to me a direct symbolism of the common view that black people were inferior to white people. Did white people attend minstrel shows to confirm their status as higher than black people?

The second thing that caught my attention was the illustration’s word choice when referring to the performance. It calls these performances “gags” and “conundrums.” When I think of a “gag,” I think of a silly joke that one tells knowing of its ridiculousness. A conundrum, on the other hand, has a double meaning. The first is a confusing question. The second is “a riddle, the answer to which involves a pun or play on words.”[2] Dictionary.com provides an example of a conundrum: What’s black and white and read all over? A newspaper. This gives modern observers of the illustration an idea of the type of comedy that the music from DeVere’s shows flaunted at the black experience’s expense.

Nearly 40 years later, this stereotypical humor persisted in the music performance sphere. In The Plaindealer, a columnist writes:

You know there hasn’t been a successful colored music comedy yet that didn’t have liberal sprinklings of what whites are pleased to call “typical Negro humor.”[3]




[1] De Vere, William. “De Vere’s Negro Sketches, Endmen’s Gags and Conundrums Adapted to the Use of Amateurs or Professionals.” De Vere’s Negro Sketches, Endmen’s Gags and Conundrums Adapted to the Use of Amateurs or Professionals. New York, NY: Excelsior publishing house, McKeon & Scofield, proprietors, 1889. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&p_theme=eai&p_nbid=I51D59AOMTU3MDAyOTU3Ny44MjU4NDA6MToxNDoxOTkuOTEuMTgwLjIyMQ&p_action=doc&p_docnum=10&p_queryname=3&p_docref=v2:13D59FCC0F7F54B8@EAIX-147E02BF33448AD0@3086-@1

[2] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/conundrum?s=t

[3] “Things Theatrical.” Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas) XXXIX, no. 17, April 23, 1937: PAGE [THREE]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2:12ACD7C7734164EC@EANAAA-12CCEA0962797C38@2428647-12CCEA09794B7B00@2-12CCEA09E13A8BC8@Things+Theatrical.



A Symbol That Transcends Race?

As I began looking through images of bluegrass musicians from almost a century ago, I realized that amidst the controversial discussion about which culture bluegrass music sprang from, one element in this polarized history remains constant. It was present whether the musician was Celtic or Cajun, young or old, man or woman.

Front porches… they abound in the bluegrass music world. Scroll through the Lomax photo archives from the 1930s, or do a quick, modern-day Google search, and your results will be similar. Front porches have become a constant, universal symbol of a bluegrass musician. Front porches had no racial bias–they crossed the lines between races at a time when no other thing did. Cajun fiddlers and white fiddlers, black guitarists and Mexican guitarists, cajun singers and black singer-songwriters alike; Lomax images show that front porches were the bluegrass musician’s favorite place.


Nicknamed “pickin’ parlors,”[1] front porches became the unofficial location for jam sessions to break out in 1930s southern communities. One might argue that front porches are a favorite performance venue for bluegrass musicians because of their great acoustics, or because the intense heat of the south required musicians to play outside in the breeze, but I’d like to think it’s deeper than that. I think that by playing on a porch, these musicians were inviting neighbors, relatives, and friends to enjoy this musical tradition.

The front porch lives on in the modern bluegrass scene. There’s a Spotify-curated playlist called Front Porch: Sit back, stay awhile, and savor the soft, sweet sounds of this folksy collection. Front porches remain in country music today. There’s a Front Porch Bluegrass band, an annual Front Porch Bluegrass Festival and Pork Roast, and a bluegrass radio station called Front Porch. It seems that we simply can’t call music “bluegrass” without reference to a front porch.

No matter the person’s race, front porches offered their wooden floors and rocking chairs to any musician.



[1] Patrik Jonsson Correspondent of The Christian,Science Monitor. “Pulled Up by the Banjo Strings: ALL Edition].” The Christian Science Monitor, Jun 23, 2005. https://search.proquest.com/docview/405544729?accountid=351.

Pictures referenced:

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Singers & dancers, New Bight, Cat Island, July. Bahamas Cat Island, 1935. July. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660223/.

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Pete Steele and family, Hamilton, Ohio. Hamilton Ohio United States, 1938. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660375/.

Lomax, Ruby T, photographer. Lolo Mendoza and Chico Real, with guitars, at the home of Mrs. Sarah Kleberg Shelton, Kingsville, Texas. Kingsville Texas United States, 1940. [Sept. 20] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660028/.

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Bill Tatnall, sitting, playing guitar, Frederica, Georgia. Frederica Georgia United States, 1935. June. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660089/.

Lomax, Ruby T, photographer. Cajun fiddler, Louisiana. Louisiana United States, 1934. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660087/.

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Wayne Perry playing fiddle, Crowley, Louisiana. Crowley Louisiana United States, None. [Between 1934 and 1950] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660067/.

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Cajun singers, southwest Louisiana. Louisiana United States, 1934. Summer. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660227/.

Skulls: a 19th-Century Justification for Racism in Music


Anyone could read this short passage and recognize that the author is approaching music with a problematic, racist mindset, but I had no idea the undercurrent of “science” propelling these opinions until I dug a little deeper…

The pseudoscience of phrenology was running rampant in mid-19th century society. Racist beliefs and actions were justified through this “science.”[1] Phrenologists argued that a person’s character, intelligence, and opinions could be deduced from the shape and size of their skull.[2] This was fodder for 19th-century minds to be opposed to whole races and ethnicities, solely based off the external shape of their skulls. Samuel George Morton wrote Crania americana; or, A comparative view of the skulls of various aboriginal nations of North and South America[3] in 1839. Crania americana allowed racism to reign in 19th-century thinking under the guise of science, as the book was published in great quantities and spread across the continent and across the ocean to Europe.[4] Through drawings like the ones below, Morton provided “reasoning” for the acceptability of racism against Native Americans. Phrenology directly influenced how people viewed Native American music and musicians.

Looking back at the first excerpt,[5] it is easy to witness how this undercurrent of phenological thought influenced the cultural norms of the 19th century about racism towards Native Americans. This passage comes from the American Phrenological Journal, a publication by scholars of this pseudoscience. Much to my chagrin, this journal would have held great authority over its original audience, an audience well-accustomed to phrenological thought. American Phrenological Journal deems the music of the “wild Indian” to be lesser, because they believed that a Native American’s brain did not physically have the same capacity for music making as a European did. Before even hearing the music, phrenologists had deduced the music to be less advanced than “Christian” music, purely because of the shape of the musicians’ skulls. Along with making assumptions about the music before listening to it, the author makes conclusions about the whole people group based off of the music. They say that “it is a fact” that people can be judged by their music, and that this serves as confirmation that white European-descendants are “superior,” as organs and pianos are a testament to.



[1]  SciShow. “Victorian Pseudosciences: Brain Personality Maps.” YouTube. YouTube, December 1, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBv1wKinQXw.

[2]  Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Phrenology.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed September 16, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/phrenology.

[3]  Morton, Samuel George. Crania Americana, or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America to Which Is Prefixed an Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839.

[4]  “Skulls in Print: Scientific Racism in the Transatlantic World.” University of Cambridge, March 19, 2014. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/skulls-in-print-scientific-racism-in-the-transatlantic-world.

[5]  “MUSIC, AS A PHYSICAL AND MORAL AGENT.: MYSTERIES OF MUSIC. 1. MUSIC AS A PHYSICAL AGENT. 2. MUSIC AS A MORAL AGENT. 3. MUSIC AS A COMPLEX AGENT. MUSIC AS A CIVILIZER.” American Phrenological Journal 43, no. 4 (April 1866). https://search.proquest.com/docview/137924894?accountid=351.