6: Video excerpt, President Richard Nixon performs "God Bless America" at the "Grand Ole Opry," 1974.
Since 1925, the Grand Ole Opry has been a country music stage show and radio broadcast out of Nashville, Tennessee. Many country music legends played at the Opry, and the show's existence and success was a major factor in Nashville's development as the "country music capital" of America. In March 1974, when the Opry had already been running for almost 50 years, a new, larger building was built to house the show. President Richard Nixon was present at the opening of the new Grand Ole Opry House, where he performed "God Bless America," introducing it by mentioned an appearance he made with Irving Berlin at a dinner in honor of American POW’s returning home from Vietnam.
Note that at this point in his presidency, Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate Scandal. He would resign less than five months later, on August 9, 1974. Nixon had been able to sustain his presidency during the early parts of the scandal because of broad support from Republican politicians and voters. But by the spring of ’74, he was losing that support. Nixon's performance at the Opry is identifiable as a moment when "God Bless America" began to be associated with conservative politics and the GOP.
Suggested Activity: Watch the video with students and ask them for their reactions: What do they notice about the setting, the music, the feelings people seem to be expressing? How does Nixon come across? Is there anything surprising to students about his manner, his voice, what he says? Why might a president embroiled in a political scandal attend an event like this and perform? Why would he perform "God Bless America," of all songs? Can you think of examples of politicians today going on television, or otherwise engaging in public cultural activities? What might be the motivations and results of such endeavors?
Source: "President Nixon plays 'God Bless America' song on the piano at the opening of the Ole Opry house in Nashville, Tennessee." Critical Past video. 2:25, March 16, 1974. https://www.criticalpast.com/.