The President’s U.S. Marine Band traditionally plays “Hail to the Chief” to announce the arrival of the President, who is America’s Commander in Chief. It is also played immediately after the inauguration of a new President after he or she has taken the oath of office. Like the “Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem, the song was adapted from another source.

“Hail to the Chief” is attributed to an English composer, James Sanderson. It was based on an old Gaelic song and used in Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake.” It was first performed in the United States in 1812.

When the U.S. Marine Band performed at the ceremony to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone for the first lock on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on May 29, 1829, President Andrew Jackson was in attendance. As he left the ceremony, the band played “Hail to the Chief.” It was later reported that the crowd responded enthusiastically to the accompaniment.

There were later occasions when the song was chosen to honor the President. Julia Tyler, the wife of President John Tyler, asked the Marine Band to play “Hail to the Chief” to announce the President’s arrival. Sarah Polk, the wife of President James Polk, also instructed the band to play the tune to announce the arrival of her husband at official functions.

In 1954, the Department of Defense instituted an official policy to make “Hail to the Chief” the musical tribute for the President of the United States.

“Hail to the Chief” and U.S. Marine Band facts and figures:

  • President Chester Arthur did not feel that the music was dignified and asked John Philip Sousa, then conductor of the U.S. Marine Band, to compose a different fanfare. Sousa wrote “Presidential Polonaise,” but it never caught on and was again replaced by “Hail to the Chief” during President Cleveland’s administration.
  • The U.S. Marine Band was established by an Act of Congress signed by President John Adams in July 11, 1798, and is the oldest professional musical organization in the United States.
  • The U.S. Marine Band is the only musical organization whose primary mission is to provide music for the President of the United States.

To learn more, see the U.S. Marine Band site.