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Hail to the Chief

What is the piece of music played each time the President is announced? Where did that tune originate?

“Hail To The Chief” Arranged by Jari Villanueva, played by the USAF Band


Hail to the Chief, with its preceding Ruffles and Flourishes, is traditionally played to announce the arrival of the president at state functions and events. Derived from an old Gaelic air, Hail to the Chief was used in James Sanderson’s musical play of 1812, “The Lady of the Lake.” The song was already very popular when the Marine Band played it from a barge for the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on July 4,1828, in the presence of President John Quincy Adams.  A production of “The 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.


Two First Ladies are credited with first instructing the Marine Band to play “Hail to the Chief” at a Presidential appearance. Julia Tyler, the vivacious young second wife of President John Tyler, was an amateur composer. The Tylers entertained frequently and it was at these parties that she reportedly asked the Marine Band to announce the President’s arrival by performing “Hail to the Chief.” First Lady Sara Polk is also credited with using “Hail to the Chief” to announce the arrival of the President. President James. K. Polk was an unassuming man of slight stature, and his arrival at large functions frequently went unnoticed. To avoid this embarrassment, Mrs. Polk reportedly asked the Marine Band to play “Hail to the Chief” to announce him.

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. According to the Memphis Daily Appeal, October 12, 1861, at the start of the review, the band of the 1st Virginia Infantry struck up “Hail to the Chief” and concluded with “Dixie”.

It is said that a Union Band serenaded General George Gordon Meade with the tune after his victory at Gettysburg.

New words were published to honor General Meade. Published on July 4, 1865, this piece honors the victor of the battle, George Gordon Meade.  While history has not been kind to Meade with regard to the battle, the citizens of the time knew who the victor of Gettysburg was.  To honor his deeds during the war, the song General Meade: The Hero of Gettysburg was composed, and set to the tune of “Hail to the Chief.”

Lincoln heard the tune many times during his presidency. The night of his assassination, he was greeted with the tune as he entered the box seat at Ford’s theater.

Here is the Civil war version performed by The Federal City Brass Band:

Over the years the tradition of playing”Hail to the Chief” to announce the president continued, and in 1954 the Department of Defense established an official policy making”Hail to the Chief” a musical tribute to the President of the United States.


In the 19th Century, not every president was in love with “Hail to the Chief.” President Chester A. Arthur, who served from 1881 to 1885, directed the leader of the Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, to compose a new one to replace it. Sousa was questioned by the President about the music that the Marine Band had played as he went into dinner. Sousa replied, ” ‘Hail to the Chief,’ sir.” (Sousa recorded later that “Hail to the Chief” had been performed at the White House “since time immemorial.”) President Arthur continued, “Do you consider it suitable?” Sousa replied, “No, sir. It was chosen many years ago largely because of its name.” President Arthur replied, “Then change it!” Sousa did so by composing “Presidential Polonaise” for indoor affairs and “Semper Fidelis” for outdoor affairs.”

Unfortunately for “Presidential Polonaise,” it never caught on, and “Hail to the Chief” made a return. “Semper Fidelis” still remains, although not as a song that greets a president. Of course, not until a Marine enters the White House…


Sousa was undeterred; he would go on to write more great music. President Jimmy Carter, in seeking to make the trappings of his presidency a little less regal, asked that “Hail to the Chief” not be played when he made public entrances. This turned out to be a highly unpopular decision. “Hail to the Chief” returned and has been in use since.

At White House arrival Ceremonies The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets of the US Army Band (Pershing’s Own) performs the honors for the President.

The lyrics written by Albert Gamse (in case you ever wish to sing them) are:

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!

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

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 back agen,
“Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! i-e-roe!”


  1. Linda Houck Linda Houck March 31, 2020

    Thank you for always giving us valuable information. It is so interesting to learn about the origin of Hail to the Chief. We have heard it for years without knowing anything about it. Will be sharing this with friends.

  2. Jim Cossetti Jim Cossetti February 19, 2018

    Thank you for clarifying the origins of both the music and lyrics.


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