On this day in 1970, President Richard Nixon travels to Philadelphia to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Eugene Ormandy, the world-renowned conductor and music director of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
In keeping with tradition, the orchestra struck up Hail to the Chief upon Nixon’s entrance. During the presentation, a dapper Nixon, dressed in a black tuxedo with tails and white bow tie, confessed that he had never attended a live performance of the symphony under Ormandy’s direction and admitted that, like most Americans, his appreciation of the master’s work had come to him only through records. He then recounted how his mother used to force him to practice the piano and violin, not imagining that any orchestra might be playing Hail to the Chief’ to me [someday]. Nixon proclaimed that the highest experience that could ever have come is to have Hail to the Chief’ played by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was designed to acknowledge meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Nixon broke with protocol by traveling to Philadelphia to bestow the medal because Ormandy insisted that he could not attend the traditional ceremony at the White House unless he could invite all 105 members of his orchestra. White House space constraints made this impossible, so Nixon made the journey to honor Ormandy in person in Philadelphia on the symphony’s 70th anniversary.
The president finally saw the maestro and his orchestra perform live that night.