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Politics & Government

'Hail To The Chief': The Official Anthem Of The U.S. President

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's learn a little more now about a tune that we'll hear twice at the inauguration later this month - once for outgoing President Barack Obama and once for incoming President Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. ARMY CEREMONIAL BAND'S PERFORMANCE OF "FOUR RUFFLES AND FLOURISHES, HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

GREENE: "Hail To The Chief," the president's official anthem, was first heard in America 205 years ago.

JOSEPH REZEK: The song was made very, very popular during the war of 1812 by Sir Walter Scott, who was probably the most popular author in the United States. And he was a Scottish author.

GREENE: That is the voice of Joseph Rezek, a professor at Boston University, who studies the overlap between British and American culture. He says "Hail To The Chief" actually grew out of a poem that was turned into a musical play called "Lady Of The Lake."

REZEK: It's set in the medieval period around wars between England and Scotland. One of the songs in that poem is "Hail To The Chief."

(SOUNDBITE OF HESPERUS: EARLY MUSIC ENSEMBLE'S PERFORMANCE OF "FOUR RUFFLES AND FLOURISHES, HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

GREENE: Ooh, the Celtic version there. The chief in "Hail To The Chief" was a ruthless Scottish chieftain named Roderick Dhu.

REZEK: He's the leader of a clan - a Highland clan who has sworn against the English. We have, in our nation, thought of the presidency as a very dignified, respectable role. And this song really is about a leader who's not a statesman, who is basically destroyed by his inability to adapt to circumstances.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

WASHINGTON MEN'S CAMERATA: (Singing) Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances...

GREENE: "Hail To The Chief" actually does have lyrics, lyrics that have changed a lot over the years. The version we know now originated around 1840, and that is when it became the official presidential theme - no kilt required.

(SOUNDBITE OF WASHINGTON MEN'S CAMERATA SONG, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.