There’s certainly no lack of discussion about music’s role in politics. From Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3,” whose title “Bonaparte” was rescinded following Napoleon’s emperor declaration, to Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome” and the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 70s, music, as with other forms of art, has not shied from politically charged commentary.
However, for next week’s Election Day, we at Musicnotes have been fascinated by the story of a politico’s non-partisan musical ties. Mr. Charles Dawes served as the 30th Vice President of the United States, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the self-taught pianist wrote a signature tune that just happened to become a cross-generational music hit.
An influential lawyer and businessman by trade, Charles Gates Dawes was an avid music lover who often would sit at the piano and compose for pleasure. It was at one of these impromptu sessions, in 1911, that Dawes wrote his “Melody,” a charismatic song that he took particular liking to. Later adding a violin solo to the piece, Dawes gifted “Melody” to violinist Mariettan Francis MacMillan, who then sold the work to a publisher. Thus, the newly titled “Melody in A Major” became an early 20th century music hit. But, the song’s story doesn’t come to close to stopping there.
Years after scoring his smashing musical success, Dawes became the inaugural director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget, where he worked on a plan for Germany’s reparations following World War I. Dawes earned a Nobel Peace Price in 1925 for his plan, and he was selected, alongside presidential nominee Calvin Coolidge, as the vice presidential Republican candidate for the 1924 election. Dawes and Coolidge took office, and “Melody in A Major” became the unofficial anthem of Dawes’s statesmanship, tailing him in parades, opening casual speaking engagements and paying tribute at special events. He even admitted that he had grown tired of the tune prior to his death in 1951. Alas, the song would live on.
In fact, later that very year, “Melody in A Major” became a pop sensation yet again. Lyricist Carl Sigman, who had collaborated with the likes of Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington, adapted “Melody” into “It’s All in the Game,” an anthem of the capricious nature of love. (Some might say the same attributes could be argued about Dawes’s adopted profession of politics, but that’s another discussion.) “It’s All in the Game” was recorded by crooner Tommy Edwards first in 1951, and it became the R&B star’s biggest hit with a 1958 re-recording. Additional releases by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Van Morrison and Merle Haggard solidified the song’s status as a pop music standard.
The rest, as they say, is music hit history. Thus, Charles Dawes is both the only Vice President and the only Nobel Prize winner with a verifiable music hit.
Do you have a favorite politics and music story? Is there a song you like to play on Election Day? Share in the comments below!