Bob Smith, White House Piano Man

Politico.com had this great human interest piece today about Bob Smith who first played at the White House for Richard Nixon, but retired before George W. 

According to Politico

Former White House pianist Bob Smith provided entertainment to presidents, their spouses and guests for more than 30 years. As such, he has plenty of stories to tell — like the one from his White House debut, with the Army Band Chorus, at Tricia Nixon’s 1971 St. Patrick’s Day engagement party. “My Three Sons” star Fred MacMurray arrived at the event seemingly inebriated and took up the saxophone. 

 “He was just horrible. … The most awful thing you heard in your life,” Smith recalled. President Richard Nixon asked Smith to “get rid of him,” and Smith, with help from the Secret Service, complied.

Bob Smith plays the piano.

Made official White House pianist,

…First lady Pat Nixon, Smith said, used to bypass protocol and call him directly on his home phone to ask him personally to play various events—from background music at cocktail parties and receptions, to sitting in as accompanist to a hired musical act.

He later played for and with the Clintons and Gores

Later, he got along great with the Clintons. He and the president bonded over their shared love of playing music. Smith recalled several duets he played with Clinton on sax, an instrument “that was always in reaching distance” of the president.

 He was in with the Gores, too.

 “So while I’m doing saxophone things with [Clinton] at the White House, I’d go over to the vice president’s house, [where] Tipper Gore had her drum set set-up outside in the living room next to the grand piano. She’d come over and say, ‘Can I sit in?,’” Smith recalled. Tipper Gore was a “very good player,” he said.

Over the years, Smith also had numerous interactions with celebrity White House visitors, including Audrey Hepburn and Lena Horne, who sang along while he played. Cary Grant once skipped out of a White House dinner to sit outside the dining room at the piano with Smith. At the actor’s request, Smith said, the two played Cole Porter songs for over an hour.

But the reason he retired is one of the most interesting parts of the story

Smith decided to retire when the Clintons moved out of the White House because, after playing for Bush 41 and spending time with the Bush family, he preferred leave before Bush 43 moved in.

 President George H.W. Bush “was very cool,” Smith said. “But there were too many times where I saw [his son, President George W. Bush,] over that time where he was less than statesmanlike,” he laughed.

Maybe the Obamas should get him out of retirement.

 

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