Pablo Casals’ Performance at The White House in 1961

Spanish Catalan cellist and conductor Pablo Casals.(Photo: Bain News Service)
Spanish Catalan cellist and conductor Pablo Casals.(Photo: Bain News Service)

“English royalty entertains movie stars. The President of the United States entertains artists,” quipped composer Gian Carlo Menotti at The White House State Dinner honoring the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Munoz Marin, on November 13, 1961.

That remark may not be fashionable today, but on that night fifty years ago, John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy presented spanish cellist Pablo (Pau) Casals in concert at The White House. Casals was joined by violinist Alexander Schneider and pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski.

This was one of the very few times Casals agreed to play in a country that recognized fascist Spain, “to render the homage of great music to a world leader [he] admire[d].” Present that evening were Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, former President Harry Truman and wife Bess Truman, Konrad Adenauer, Dean Rusk, Aaron Copland, Alan Hovhaness, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. (Look up those names if you’re under fifty. Geez.)

Fifty years ago, nobody but nobody upstaged the Kennedy’s – especially Jacqueline. Pablo Casals came damn near close. Here he is in this clip at 1:42 minutes.

Casals and his colleagues played music by Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. For an encore, the great cellist played a work of his own, The Song of the Birds.

It’s fifty years ago today that JFK took the oath of office. On the podium with him were Robert Frost and Marian Anderson, who sang both verses of the Star Spangled Banner. Forget English royalty. Fifty years ago today, JFK knew enough to surround himself with American “royalty.” What a time!