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"Hail to the Chief " is a march primarily associated with the President of the United States. Its playing accompanies the appearance of the President at many public appearances. For major official occasions, the United States Marine Band and other military ensembles generally are the performers, so directives of the U.S.marker Department of Defensemarker have since 1954 been the main basis for according it official status. It is preceded by four ruffles and flourishes when played for the President.


Verses from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake, including "Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!" were set to music around 1821 by the songwriter James Sanderson (c. 1769- c. 1841), a self-taught English violinist and the conductor of the Surrey Theatre, London, who wrote many songs for local theatrical productions during the 1790s and the early years of the 19th century:

Soldier, rest! thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.
:::(The Lady of the Lake, 1810)

Scott's romance was quickly made into unauthorized romantic melodramas. In November 1810, Scott wrote to a friend that "The Lady of the Lake" was being made into a play by Martin and Reynolds in London and by a Mr. Siddons in Edinburgh. About the same time Scott received a letter from a friend and army officer who ended his note with a copy of the music of the Boat Song, "Hail to the Chief."

A version of Lady of the Lake debuted in New York May 8, 1812, and "Hail to the Chief" was published in Philadelphiamarker 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.

On July 4, 1828, the U.S. Marine Band performed the song at a ceremony for the formal opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was attended by President John Quincy Adams.

The lyrics

Lyrics that were written by Albert Gamse are set to James Sanderson's music, but they are rarely sung.

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,
Honored and bless'd be the evergreen pine!
Long may the tree in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line.
Heav'n send it happy dew,
Earth lend it sap anew,
Gaily to bourgeon and broadly to grow;
While ev'ry highland glen,
Sends our shout back again,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

Ours is no sapling, chance-sown by the fountain,
Blooming at Beltane, in winter to fade;
When the whirlwind has stripp'd ev'ry leaf on the mountain,
The more shall Clan Alpine exult in her shade.
Moor'd in the lifted rock,
Proof to the tempest shock,
Firmer he roots him, the ruder it blow;
Menteith and Breadalbane, then,
Echo his praise again,
"Roderigh Vich alpine dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

Row, vassals, row for the pride of the Highlands!
Stretch to your oars for the evergreen pine!
Oh, that the rosebud that graces yon islands,
Were wreath'd in a garland around him to twine!
O, that some seedling gem,
Worthy such noble stem,
Honor'd and bless'd in their shadow might grow!
Loud should Clan Alpine then,
Ring from her deepmost glen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! i-e-roe!"

Known cultural references

  • In the film My Fellow Americans, two ex-Presidents played by Jack Lemmon and James Garner discuss their annoyance at hearing the song played wherever they would go. Humorously, they both admit they made up their own lyrics in their head ("Hail to the chief, he's the chief and he needs hailing, he is the chief so everybody hail like crazy." or "Hail to the Chief if you don't I'll have to kill you, I am the chief so you had better watch your step, you bastards")
  • In the film Dave, the main character sings a variation including the lyrics, "Hail to the Chief/He's the one we all say hail to./We all say Hail/'Cause he keeps himself so clean./He's got the power/That's why he's in the shower."
  • "Hail to the Chief" is referenced in the lyrics of the song "Fortunate Son," written by John Fogerty and performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbormarker alumnus Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States, often had the Naval band play the U of M fight song, "The Victors," prior to state events instead of "Hail to the Chief." He also selected the song to be played during his funeral procession, which took place December 2006 at the U.S. Capitol.
  • "Jail to the Chief" was a slogan first seen on buttons and bumper stickers during the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon.
  • The piece features in "The Simpsons Movie" (2007).
  • The song is featured in the film "Amistad" (1997).
  • The Dixie Chicks came onstage to the strains of "Hail to the Chief" during their "Accidents and Accusations" Tour which opened in Detroit, MI on July 21, 2006
  • "Hail to the Thief," a play on "Hail to the Chief," is an album by English band Radiohead, and the phrase is contained in the lyrics of "2 + 2 = 5", a song on the album.
  • "Hail to the Thief" was also a slogan which appeared on numerous signs on the 2001 inaugural parade route for George W. Bush.
  • When President John F. Kennedy was asked what his favorite song was, he replied "Hail to the Chief." The song is normally given a spirited rendering as with any march tune. During Kennedy's funeral procession on November 25, 1963, a much slower rendition was included among the funeral dirge music.
  • A shortened version of "Hail to the Chief" is played at funerals of former Presidents when their coffin arrives at a venue.
  • A mid-1980s Purity Dairies commercial starring Ernest P. Worrell was aired in conjunction with the 1984 presidential election and featured Ernest talking about how his own special interest group -- "Purity lovers" -- have nominated him for president. At the end, while he is dialing the White House on a red telephone, he sings a modified "Hail to the Chief" - "Hail to the chief, he's your buddy and your neighbor."
  • In "Heave Ho Thomas!", the sixth episode of the twelfth season of Thomas and Friends, "Hail to the Chief" is used as the theme song for the character Hank the American Engine.


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