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National Archives // Oliver F. Atkins
National Archives // Oliver F. Atkins

Richard Nixon's Impromptu Piano Recital

National Archives // Oliver F. Atkins
National Archives // Oliver F. Atkins

Richard Nixon isn't considered America's most charming president. He certainly wasn't even in the running for that honor at the height of his Watergate controversy, which is where he was on this day in 1974. Seven of his former administration officials had been indicted less than a week earlier, and the grand jury had named Nixon as a co-conspirator.

But on this day, 42 years ago, he still had a job to do, and that involved hosting White House dinners for various groups and supporters. On March 7, Nixon welcomed the National Governors’ Association, including then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan. Singer and Nixon supporter Pearl Bailey—whom Nixon had dubbed the official “Ambassador of Love”—provided the entertainment for the night.

During the festivities, Bailey pulled the president up on stage—and he was more prepared to participate than most would have been. Unbeknownst to many, Nixon was an accomplished musician who could play the piano, accordion, violin, saxophone, and clarinet. He even wrote his own concerto titled “Richard Nixon Piano Concerto #1.” Nixon showed off his skills on the Jack Paar Program in 1961:

So when Bailey asked him to perform with her that night, he obliged.

“You don’t play as well as I sing,” the singer told him. “But I don’t sing as well as you govern.” Undaunted, Nixon banged out a couple of somewhat basic tunes, starting with “Home on the Range.”

“Mr. President, I wanted to sing a song, not ride a horse,” she told him. Obligingly, he moved on to “Wild Irish Rose” and “God Bless America” and participated in some playful banter as they worked through the tunes.

Reagan pronounced the performance "absolutely tops," while the Washington Post called it “The Dick and Pearl Show,” acknowledging that the president had managed to draw attention away from “Watergate, the energy crisis, troubles in the Middle East and the economy.” And, he was rather charming—at least for one night.

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Barack and Michelle Obama's Next Move: Producing Content for Netflix
Mark Wilson, Getty Images
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Barack Obama's first talk show appearance after leaving office was on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, David Letterman's six-part series on Netflix. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that one of the Obamas' first projects since moving out of the White House will be a storytelling partnership with Netflix.

On Monday, the streaming service announced that they've entered into a multi-year deal with Barack and Michelle Obama, who produce films and series under a company called Higher Ground Productions. So what can we expect from the former president and first lady? According to Netflix, they will be producing a "diverse mix of content," which could take the form of scripted and unscripted series, documentaries, and features.

"One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience," Barack Obama said in a statement. "That's why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix. We hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world."

The former first lady added that Netflix was a "natural fit" for the kinds of stories they want to tell. According to The New York Times, Barack Obama said he does not intend to use the platform for political ends.

Last year, the Obamas signed a joint book deal with Penguin Random House worth $65 million. Michelle's memoir, Becoming, will be published on November 13, while details about Barack Obama's memoir are forthcoming.

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Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images
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The Lincoln Library May Have to Sell the President's Hat and Blood-Stained Gloves to Pay Off a Loan
Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images
Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images

Two of the most valuable artifacts in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum may be shut away from the public for good if the institution can't pay off its debt. As the Chicago Tribune reports, the presidential library's foundation took out a $23 million loan in 2007 to acquire a collection of items that once belonged to the 16th president. Over a decade later, the Springfield, Illinois institution has yet to pay back the entirety of the loan—and it may have to auction off some of the very items it was used to purchase to do so.

The 2007 loan paid for most of the $25 million Barry and Louise Taper Collection, which before moving to the library was the largest private collection of Lincoln memorabilia compiled in the last half-century. It features 1500 items, including many of Lincoln's personal belongings and writings.

The foundation still owes $9.7 million on the loan, which comes up for renewal in October 2019. In order to avoid financial trouble and retain the majority of the artifacts, the foundation is considering auctioning off two of the most valuable pieces in the collection: A stovetop hat thought to have belonged to Lincoln and the blood-stained gloves he wore on the night of his assassination.

As long as they're in the museum's possession, the artifacts are available for the public to view and researchers to study. If they end up on the auction block they will likely go home with a private buyer and become inaccessible for the indefinite future.

While the Lincoln library is run by the Illinois government, the foundation is privately funded and run independently. The foundation appealed to Governor Bruce Rauner for financial assistance earlier this month with no success. Springfield-area Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, however, tells the Chicago Tribune that she is looking into ways to relieve the museum's financial burden.

If the state doesn't follow through with funding, the foundation does have a backup plan. The Barry and Louise Taper Collection also includes a handful of Marilyn Monroe artifacts sprinkled in with the Lincoln memorabilia and some of those items are going up for auction in Las Vegas on June 23. Revenue from a dress worn by Monroe, pictures of her taken by photographer Arnold Newman, and a bust of poet Carl Sandburg that once belonged to the icon will hopefully offer some relief to the foundation's outstanding debt.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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