The President of the United States… Yeah that’s Bill Clinton Playing the Saxophone. One of the defining and most culturally salient moments in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign occurred when he appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show.
Instead of merely chatting with the show’s host and fielding questions, Clinton appeared with his tenor saxophone in hand and belted out Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Wearing wraparound sunglasses and a brightly colored tie, the performance helped Clinton solidify himself as a relaxed, self-confident candidate, and action that political analysts claim to have won him a significant degree of support from young and minority voters. In truth, Clinton was nervous about his performance beforehand, jokingly informing the band to play louder if he made too many mistakes. In the end, however, Clinton was able to improve his reputation while displaying his saxophone skills. Shortly after the performance, he gained a lead on George H.W. Bush in the polls for the first time since the beginning of the campaign.
Clinton had years of musical experience under his belt. He was actively involved in chorus and band throughout his school years, becoming particularly adept at the tenor saxophone. Clinton practiced every day and attended band camp in the Ozark Mountains every summer. He eventually won first chair in the saxophone section at the Arkansas state band. Clinton wrote in his autobiography that he briefly considered a musical career when he was around 16 years old, but later decided to another career. He explained that while he loved music and was sure that he could develop into a very good player, his skills would never reach the likes of Stan Getz or John Coltrane. In public service, however, he was sure he could excel.
In college, Clinton focused his studies on academics and politics, but still played saxophone frequently and earned several scholarships for his involvement in music. Clinton is still a member of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary music fraternity. As he demonstrated on The Arsenio Hall, Clinton was still passionate about playing music during his political career. In fact, he played with E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemmons as the 1993 inaugural ball after winning the presidency. He even played a live gig at the famous Reduta Jazz Club in Prague in 1994, playing classics like “My Funny Valentine” and “Summertime”. This concert became known as the “Two Presidents Gig” after Clinton invited the Czech premiere Vaclav Havel on stage to play with him.
In 2007, Clinton signed and donated the saxophone he played at his inauguration to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Clinton decided to give the horn to the museum after visiting in 2006. Even after deciding to donate the horn, the former president reportedly had second thoughts about giving up the horn, as he had practiced on it daily for many years. In the end, Clinton decided to go through with the donation and became part of musical history.
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