White House Record Collection Might Be Fancier Than You Think

Currently, the collection is curated by former president Jimmy Carter’s grandson

Talking Heads and Captain Beefheart? Not exactly the records that would first come to mind as titles to be found in the White House record collection. Yet, these and other ‘fanciful’ titles could be found there, in a collection that is currently curated by John Chuldenko, stepson of former president Jimmy Carter’s son Jack.

Chuldenko was the person who actually rediscovered the existence of this collection. According to the White House Historical Association, “the Library, begun by First Lady Pat Nixon, was curated by a volunteer commission of noted music journalists, scholars, and other experts.”

When it came time to update it at the end of the 1970s, writes Washingtonian’s Rob Brunner, “the selection process would be headed by John Hammond, a hugely influential figure who had signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen.” Hammond also enlisted genre experts like “Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, who was responsible for jazz, and Boston music critic Bob Blumenthal, who led the pop picks.”

The resulting collection of more than 2,000 LPs contains such titles as Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys (which contains “one of the greatest critiques of both Southern and Northern racism,” as Blumenthal recalls), Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. On the more danceable end of the spectrum, the White House Record Library also includes Funkadelic, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Donna Summer — all of their work selected expressly for presidential use.

The Library was summarily carted off to “a secure undisclosed storage facility” when Ronald Reagan took office until Chuldenko rediscovered it. “There is no rap or hip-hop in there,” he said to Washingtonian. “There’s no electronic music. There are no boy bands, no Madonna or Britney Spears. No Michael Jackson!” Having succeeded in his mission of finding the White House Record Library, he’s set for himself the even more formidable challenge of bringing it up to date.

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