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7 Songs for Inauguration Day and Other State Ceremonies

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Every four years, the United States of America continues the Great Experiment and inaugurates a president. Music plays an important part in the occasion and festivities. To that end, here are some of the songs you’ll hear on Inauguration Day and other state ceremonies.

1. "Ruffles and Flourishes"

You’ll recognize “Ruffles and Flourishes” as the fanfare performed immediately before “Hail to the Chief.” The drums play the ruffles; the bugles play the flourishes. The fanfare was chosen to precede the presidential anthem while William McKinley was in office. There’s a hierarchy of importance to how many repetitions of ruffles and flourishes are played at an event. The president always gets four. Ambassadors returning from abroad on unofficial business get three, as do lieutenant generals. Major generals get two, and brigadier generals get one lowly ruffle and flourish. (Consuls general get none, making them the ninjas of the State Department.)

2 & 3. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and "Hands Across the Sea"

During formal ceremonies at which civilian officials of the Department of Defense are present, the band plays ruffles and flourishes followed by the final 32 bars of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

If equivalent defense officials from foreign governments are present, the band plays “Hands Across the Sea.” John Philip Sousa composed both songs.

4. "Yankee Doodle"

When foreign leaders are welcomed to the White House, the military and State Department hold a State Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn. The president is first welcomed with ruffles and flourishes and “Hail to the Chief,” and upon arrival of the foreign dignitary, ruffles and flourishes are played, followed by the appropriate national anthem, followed by “The Star Spangled Banner.” Heads of state (e.g. the Queen) receive a 21-gun salute by the 3rd Infantry Regiment; heads of government (e.g. the prime minister) receive a 19-gun salute.

Following a review of the honor guard by the president and his guest, the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, dressed in the parade uniform of the Continental Army, marches across the South Lawn and performs "Yankee Doodle." (N.B. the uniform is predominantly red, as 18th-century military musicians wore the reverse color of the rank-and-file. The Continental Army wore blue with red accents, therefore the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps wears red with blue. The whole reason for this is, because before the days of radio communication, messages were relayed down the line by drums and bugles. An officer would need to be able to identify the nearest musician in a hurry.)

The only time “Yankee Doodle” is not performed is when the visiting dignitary is from England. Before the Revolutionary War, British military officers would sing “Yankee Doodle” to mock colonial soldiers. (“Doodle” derives from the German dodel, or “fool.”) After the war, the song wasn’t so funny anymore. There’s really no need to rub things in by playing it for the Queen.

5. "Hail, Columbia"

When the vice president is sworn in, he will receive four ruffles and flourishes followed by his office’s official song, “Hail, Columbia.” The song has a storied history, and its performance at inaugurations precedes “The Star Spangled Banner” by more than a century. It was composed for George Washington’s first swearing-in, and was originally titled “The President’s March.” During the 19th century, “Hail, Columbia” was the de facto national anthem, giving way to “The Star Spangled Banner” in 1931.

The chorus to “Hail, Columbia” begins:

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

6. "The Star Spangled Banner"

“The Star Spangled Banner” was adopted by Congress as the national anthem in 1931, and signed into law by Herbert Hoover. Like “Hail to the Chief,” the song started out as a poem—this one famously written by Francis Scott Key, who was inspired following the Battle of Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812. (The name of the poem was, appropriately, The Defense of Ft. McHenry.) The “rockets’ red glare” was provided by British ships bombarding the fort, which withstood an attack of Congreve rockets and somewhere around 1800 cannonballs.

Key set his lyrics to the official song of the Anacreontic Society, which was an 18th-century musicians’ club in Britain.

7. "Hail to the Chief"

The presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief” was inspired by the poem The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott, with its title taken from the second canto:

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honored and blessed be the ever-green Pine!
Long may the tree, in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line!

The poem was later adopted into a play, and composer James Sanderson set the verses to music, published under the title “March and Chorus in the Dramatic Romance of the Lady of the Lake.” Following a performance of the song in 1815 to honor the late George Washington’s birthday, the public began a slow association between “Hail to the Chief” and the president of the United States. Its first performance at an inauguration was in 1837, for Martin Van Buren. It wasn’t until Harry Truman was in office that the Department of Defense formally adopted the song to honor the president.

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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.


When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.


When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”


After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"


Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.


A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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Remembering Comet Hale-Bopp's Unlikely Discovery
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Comet Hale-Bopp was a sensation in the mid-1990s. It was visible to the naked eye for 18 months, shattering a nine-month record previously set in 1811. It inspired a doomsday cult, wild late-night radio theories about extraterrestrials, and plenty of actual science. But a year before it became visible to normal observers, two men independently and simultaneously discovered it in a coincidence of astronomical proportions.

On the night of July 22-23, 1995, Alan Hale was engaged in his favorite hobby: looking at comets. It was the first clear night in his area for about 10 days, so he decided to haul out his telescope and see what he could see. In the driveway of his New Mexico home, he set up his Meade DS-16 telescope and located Periodic Comet Clark, a known comet. He planned to wait a few hours and observe another known comet (Periodic Comet d'Arrest) when it came into view. To kill time, he pointed his telescope at M70, a globular cluster in the Sagittarius system.

Comet Hale-Bopp streaks through a starry night sky.
Comet Hale-Bopp streaks through the sky over Merrit Island, Florida, south of Kennedy Space Center.
George Shelton // AFP // Getty Images

Hale was both an amateur astronomer and a professional. His interest in spotting comets was actually the amateur part, thought it would make his name famous. Hale's day jobs included stints at JPL in Pasadena and the Southwest Institute for Space Research in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. But that night, peering at M70, he wrote, "I immediately noticed a fuzzy object in the field that hadn't been there when I had looked at M70 two weeks earlier." He double-checked that he was looking in the right place, and then started to get excited.

In order to verify that the fuzzy object wasn't something astronomers already knew about, Hale consulted his deep-sky catalogues and also ran a computer search using the International Astronomical Union's computer at Harvard University. Convinced that he had found something new, Hale fired off an email very early on the morning of July 23 to the IAU's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, telling them what he had found, along with detailed instructions on how to verify it themselves. Hale also tracked the object as it moved, until it moved out of view. It was definitely a comet, and it was definitely new.

Meanwhile, Tom Bopp was in Arizona, also hunting for comets. At the time, Bopp was working at a construction materials company in Phoenix, but he was also an accomplished amateur astronomer, with decades of experience observing deep-sky objects. That night, Bopp vas visiting the remote Vekol Ranch, 90 miles south of Phoenix, known as a great location for dark-sky viewing. He was with a group of friends, which was important because Bopp didn't actually own a telescope.

The Bopp group looked through their various telescopes, observing all sorts of deep-sky objects late into the night. Bopp's friend Jim Stevens had set up his homemade 17.5-inch Dobsonian reflector telescope and made some observations. Stevens finished an observation, then left his telescope to consult a star atlas and figure out what to aim at next. While Stevens was occupied, Bopp peered into Stevens's telescope and saw a fuzzy object enter the field of view, near M70. He called his friends over to have a look.

The Bopp group proceeded to track the fuzzy object for several hours, just as Hale was doing over in New Mexico. By tracking its movement relative to background stars, they (like Hale) concluded that it was a comet. When the comet left his view, Bopp drove to a Western Union and sent a telegram to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. (For historical perspective, telegrams were extremely outdated in 1995, but technically they were still a thing.)

Brian Marsden at the Central Bureau received Bopp's telegram hours later, after getting a few followup emails from Hale with additional details. Comparing the times of discovery, Marsden realized that the two men had discovered the comet simultaneously. According to NASA, it was the farthest comet ever to be discovered by amateur astronomers—it was 7.15 Astronomical Units (AU) from our sun. That's 665 million miles. Not bad for a pair of amateurs, one using a homemade telescope!

The Central Bureau verified the findings and about 12 hours after the initial discovery, issued IAU Circular 6187, designating it C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp. The circular read, in part: "All observers note the comet to be diffuse with some condensation and no tail, motion toward the west-northwest."

Four men smile, posing outdoors next to a large telescope at night.
Comet hunters (L to R): David Levy, Dr. Don Yeomans, Dr. Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp pose next to a telescope during a public viewing of the Hale-Bopp and Wild-2 comets.
Mike Nelson // AFP // Getty Images

Less than a year later, Comet Hale-Bopp came into plain view, and the rest is history. It was a thousand times brighter than Halley's Comet, which had caused a major stir in its most recent appearance in the 1980s. Comet Hale-Bopp will return, much like Halley's Comet, but it won't be until the year 4385. (And incidentally, it was previously visible circa 2200 BCE.)


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