It being the week of the annual Presidents Day Holiday, we need look no further than out our windows to see our local link to this parade of American history. Now, I am sure that you fellow strummers who live in our fair city—Northampton, Massachusetts—are steeped in the lore and history of our most famous citizen, the 30th President of the United States Calvin Coolidge.
But, perhaps, a few out-of-town strummers and readers of this blog may not be as up on local lore as the rest of us. So, this is why his story is of importance to we local ukers and how we can link Coolidge with music—sort of.
As a quick setting of the stage, Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States, was born in Plymouth, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. The only president born on the 4th of July! After graduating from nearby Amherst College, he began a career in law and politics here in Northampton eventually becoming Governor of Massachusetts, Vice-President of the United States, and–after the death of President Warren Harding–President in his own right.
Why lump Coolidge with ukuleles? Well, about the only link I could find was his autograph on the famed ukulele that was carried on the Byrd expedition to the North Pole in 1926. It was exhibited at the White House and signed by a who’s who of dignitaries of the day. Close enough for this blog!
More to the point, and aside from simple Northampton pride, about every other one of our weekly ukulele strum sessions
is held in the venerable Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum right here in our own Forbes Library.
This resource began when Coolidge was Massachusetts Governor and Vice-President Elect, began giving documents and memorabilia to the public library for the city of Northampton.
There are several good biographies of Coolidge and his time—as well as our good friend Wikipedia—that can give you as much of his life story as you care to learn.
Suffice it to say that, for our purposes, simply knowing that his law office
was in the Main Street building above what is now Fitzwilly’s Restaurant
and that he and his wife, Grace, lived in a rented duplex on Massasoit Street before their moves to Boston and Washington.
After leaving the White House in 1929, they returned to Northampton where he lived for the rest of his life. As an aside, he is the only President to have moved from a rented duplex to the White House—and back! They later moved to a larger house in Northampton to, as Coolidge commented, accommodate all the visitors of a “has-been President.”
Most historians note his calm, shy personality that appealed to the attitudes of the time.
His common sense and dry wit earned him a reputation for being wise. Most of us recall that he earned the nickname “Silent Cal” because he refrained from giving public statements unless they were absolutely necessary, and when he did, they were short and to the point. How novel in this day and age! Just saying.
In 1924, Coolidge was nominated and ran for President on his own and was elected in a landslide.
He campaigned on the promise of a “calm hand on the rudder of state” and “safe, sane, and steady” were emblazoned on his posters.
His reasoned demeanor and deliberate decision-making process sparked his campaign slogan—“Keep Cool with Coolidge.”
Voters bought into this and he was elected in a landslide.
But, on to music. In those early days of radio and rallies, campaign songs were the rage and Coolidge was first mentioned in one for the Harding campaign of 1920.
In the 1920s, these songs were catchy tunes with easy to remember and sing lyrics. Here’s one from the Harding campaign that was written by nonother than the most popular musical performer in America of the day, Al Jolson!
Harding/Coolidge Campaign Song, 1920: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq2rnv7xPWs
For the 1924 election campaign of Coolidge and Charles Dawes as his running mate, there were several songs.
But, by far, the most memorable was “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge.” This was written for the “Home Town Coolidge Club” of Plymouth, Vermont, but soon became popular nationwide.
It was even performed on the White House lawn for the Coolidges by Al Jolson himself. Sorry, no ukulele in the band, but there is a banjo!
Here is a relatively recent recording of this tune by the performing musicologist Oscar Brand.
Oscar Brand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mjRF3fQSdw
Here is another iteration of this tune complete with newsreel footage of a rally right here in Northampton!
Coolidge in Northampton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ5MgFHahTc
I’m working on a ukulele chord-melody arrangement of “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge,” but if any of you would like to give it a try, here is a piano version from 1924.
This is a tune that should be part of our AEIOUkes repertoire! Any thoughts?
Now that Prohibition is over, KEEP COOL and STAY TUNED!