A night of music in honor of President and Mrs. Kennedy

The National Archives presents a musical tribute on December 3 in honor of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy’s commitment to the arts, celebrating their legacy of musical performances in the White House.

On November 13, 1961, Pablo Casals performed the Mendelssohn Trio in D minor at the White House.  Kenneth Slowik (cello), James Stern (violin), and Lura Johnson (piano) will present that program on Tuesday, December 3, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“We wanted to honor the memory of President and Mrs. Kennedy with a special tribute to their outstanding commitment to the performing arts, and our William G. McGowan Theater is a wonderful venue to recreate the historic Pablo Casals performance,” said Susan Clifton, producer for Public Programs at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Following the performance, Kenneth Slowik, Artistic Director of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society, will lead a discussion with Col. John R. Bourgeois, Director Emeritus, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band; Leslie Jones, Curator, White House Historical Association; and Edith Mayo, Curator, Smithsonian Museum of American History.

President John F. Kennedy and Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Muñoz Marín speak with cellist Pablo Casals after his performance at a state dinner. (Kennedy Library, ST-273-3-61)

President John F. Kennedy and Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Muñoz Marín speak with cellist Pablo Casals after his performance at a state dinner. (Kennedy Library, ST-273-3-61)

Pablo Casals, considered one of the greatest cellists of all time, was born in El Vendrell, Catalonia, Spain.  When he was invited to perform at the White House in 1961, he was living in Puerto Rico, where he had begun the annual Casals Festival, which continues to this day.

Evening Skirt and Shell Top

Mrs. Kennedy wore this beaded silk gown designed by Oleg Cassini for the performance.

The fact that Casals agreed to play at the November 13, 1961, dinner at the White House for the Governor of Puerto Rico was a great triumph. Casals had refused to play in the United States since the government had recognized the regime of dictator Francisco Franco of Spain, the cellist’s native country. Not only would Casals break his personal embargo, but one of the world’s most respected musicians would enhance the First Lady’s quest for more uplifting entertainment at the White House. Casals, accompanied by pianist Mieczyslaw Horzowksi and violinist Alexander Schneider, performed a program of pieces by Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Couperin. (Read more about Mrs. Kennedy’s entertaining.)

When President Kennedy reestablished the Medal of Freedom as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Casals was among the first group of 31 people to receive the new medal. But the ceremony on December 6 was a sad one—President Kennedy had been assassinated just a few weeks before, and the ceremony was held by President Lyndon Johnson instead.

No reservations are needed! Enter through the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue. The program begins at 7 p.m.

Presented in partnership with the Smithsonian Museum of American History and the White House Historical Association

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