Music | May 19, 2022 2:53 pm

The White House Has Its Own Record Collection — and It Rules

Jimmy Carter's grandson rediscovered a treasure trove of vinyl that was once curated for the presidential residence

The exterior of the White House is seen from the North Lawn on March 7, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Beginning in the 1970s, the RIAA curated a wide selection of vinyl for the White House
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Some crate digging by Jimmy Carter’s grandson has turned up the existence of a rather amazing vinyl collection that was once housed in the White House.

Per the Washingtonian, John Chuldenko learned about the record collection during a family trip with the rest of the Carter clan. A director and writer, Carter’s grandson used his connections to find more info on the mysterious vinyl treasure, eventually learning that a well-curated music selection was indeed once housed in the White House, but now resides in a secure offsite facility.

The collection was started in the 1970s via a donation from the trade group the Recording Industry Association of America and put together by songwriter Johnny Mercer (“Moon River”). “Mercer and his team did their best to nod toward more modern sounds—the first Doors LP and Elton John’s US debut made the cut—but their choices leaned heavily on easy listening: Lawrence Welk, Don Ho, Perry Como,” as writer Rob Brunner notes in the article. “Chuldenko likes to point out that there was the same number of Pat Boone albums as entries from the Beatles.”

Thankfully, a second collection was put together by the RIAA under the guise of John Hammond, a music legend who had signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen. A much more expansive and modern list, the second curation featured an array of soul, punk, salsa, gospel, funk and disco records; Funkadelic, Talking Heads and the Sex Pistols were all represented.

Unfortunately, the ceremony and reception for this new collection took place just before Jimmy Carter left office; the records were supposedly then put into that offsite storage. (Chuldenko suggests it was the Reagans who offloaded the vinyl.)

In 2010 Chuldenko got approval to get the records out of storage — he hoped to use footage of their release for a possible documentary. He found the LPs in their original sleeves and inserted into color-coded binders, each adorned with a presidential seal. Sadly, his time with the music was limited to one day, and financing for the film never came to fruition.

After being contacted by the White House Historical Society for a potential article about the collection, the filmmaker says he’s now inspired to create a third installment for the White House — one that reflects music from the past four decades. “There is no rap or hip-hop in there,” says Chuldenko. “There’s no electronic music. There are no boy bands, no Madonna or Britney Spears. No Michael Jackson! I don’t know how you do a third volume and not put in [Public Enemy’s] It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or NWA. These are landmark records that helped to shape our culture.”

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