Remembering the Day President George W. Bush Welcomed Pope Benedict with The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Apr 25, 2013
RUSH: I want to ask your indulgence here at the beginning of the program if you wouldn’t mind if I devoted some time here to something that I just personally love. I was just watching the ceremony of the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library at SMU in Dallas. My back has been to it for the most part, I’ve been working on the computer and I’ve had the TVs on. I’ve had the audio on, haven’t been watching. And all of a sudden I became aware that a song was being sung, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I stopped what I was doing, and I turned around, I faced the TV, and it was the US Army Chorus decked out in their white formal wear, their white military dress, singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
And memories flooded back. At the time, I couldn’t remember when it was, but I remembered that George W. Bush held a welcoming ceremony for Pope Benedict at the White House outside, and it was his birthday. It was. Because Kathleen Battle sang happy birthday. I’ll never forget that. It was the pope’s birthday, and he was making an official visit here to the White House in the United States, and the Army band and chorus sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It was as moving a rendition, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has great versions of the Battle Hymn, and a lot of people have done it, but for some reason this one just made me stop and have total reverence for the song for what it was about, for its history, who wrote it, how it was written.
It was written during the era of Abraham Lincoln. When he first heard it, he liked it so much he demanded it be played again. The visuals of the ceremony celebrating Pope Benedict’s birthday at the White House. It was very close to noon when all this happened. The lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the way the Army Chorus sang it sent chills up my spine, and I remember, I rolled the audio of the TV version of this, which is not the greatest audio, I rolled it off, and I ended up playing it on the program a couple, three days in a row after that.
It’s one of those songs. You know, songs sometimes just hit you. This one hit me. I knew of Battle Hymn of the Republic and I heard it performed many times, but the combination of circumstances entirely moved me. So I hear it again today. Now, on that day, it was April 18th of 2008. It’s April 25th, five years. On that day, right before 12 noon, I called the White House and I said, “Would you give me 30 seconds with President Bush just to thank him?” They said, “Well, it’s gonna be tough because he’s –” It might have been the next day, but whenever it was I called, I don’t think it was that day, but maybe the next day I called and said, “Just give me 30 seconds.” And I tried Karl Rove, and he said, “Well, I’ll try, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope. I mean, we’re swamped today.” And we got him.
President Bush came on the program for 35 or 40 seconds, Kathleen (Cookie) is trying to find it now to roll it off so that we can go back and revisit this. I don’t know what it is, but the fact that that song was chosen again today by the president and at that birthday celebration for the pope, that entire morning, late-morning celebration of the pope and America and the worldwide vision of America and the Catholic Church, it all came together, and it was a moment of great solemnity and profundity to me, and I’m reliving it a little bit here when I hear the song.
How coincidental is it that the president chose that song again for his library dedication? So I want to go back, I want to play it for you. I want to share my passion for this with you. The Army Chorus from April 18th. It’s television audio, it’s not the best audio. You can find professional recordings of the same chorus singing this, but it’s not the same. I went out and did that. I went to iTunes. I went everywhere. I bought as many copies of the vocal portrayal of The Battle Hymn of the Republic as I could find and I could not find one that replicated the phrasing and the syllabic intensity during the chorus as on this version that I want to play for you now. ‘Cause this was almost exactly what I just heard in Dallas, and I just love this.
(playing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic)
Okay, a little musical bridge here. When they come back, and when they get into the chorus line again the way this group sings the word “glory,” I don’t know, it just sends chills down my spine. This April 18th, 2008, from the White House.
(continued playing of song)
April 18th, at the White House, the US Army Chorus, glory, glory, haaaaaallelujah! Folks, I can’t describe what that does to me, and it was April 18th, 2008, and we were in a period, as we still are in this country, where a ceremony on the White House grounds that honored God seems so unique and unreal. And this happened with complete fearlessness and pride. I was so moved by it, I asked the White House if the president could come on for just a few short minutes so I could thank him. Actually, the ceremony, I think, was a few days before April 18th. It was April 18th when the president did make time to call the program.
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Rush!
RUSH ARCHIVE: Mr. President, I can’t thank you enough for calling. I’m gratified you took the time, sir. How are you?
THE PRESIDENT: Any time. Thanks. I’m doing great.
RUSH ARCHIVE: I have to tell you, something stirred in my soul, Mr. President, during the welcoming ceremony earlier this week at the White House for Pope Benedict, and I’ve been moved by it ever since. The US Army Chorus and Band–
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
RUSH ARCHIVE: The Battle Hymn of the Republic, I’ve been playing it over and over again. That ceremony, sir, was — we’re in a presidential campaign, and by definition, a presidential campaign, candidates are telling us what’s wrong with the country, and that day, you and the pope brought God to Washington on public property. It was just amazing. I just wanted to thank you for it, because it was so uplifting, it was so timely. The facial expressions on both you and the pope during The Battle Hymn of the Republic were just priceless. I just wanted to take a little time to thank you for it because it didn’t get much media coverage, the hymns and the song by Kathleen Battle. But it was just tremendous.
THE PRESIDENT: I wish you were there, because the spirit on the South Lawn was alive, and it was a fantastic moment. You know, it was great. I think there were about 13,500 people.
RUSH ARCHIVE: It was the largest welcoming ceremony in the history of the White House.
THE PRESIDENT: Ever. And it was really interesting to watch people’s expression during the ceremony, and particularly when His Holy Father got up to speak. There was this unbelievable respect, and everybody hung on his every word, and it was beautiful, and you’re right, the Army Choir was just fantastic. I wish all Americans could have seen it. You’re kind to say thanks. It was a great honor for me, and it’s what you expect for the president to do, and that is to welcome a world figure, such as the Holy Father, in such grand fashion.
RUSH ARCHIVE: Well, your remarks were excellent as well.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you.
RUSH ARCHIVE: Your humanity, of course, makes you leave yourself out of this, but your remarks were superb. The whole day, that whole ceremony, what was it, 45 minutes? You know, it was bang, bang, bang, but it was just as powerful as it could be. And I played that song all afternoon on the program, got more phone calls from people who were inspired by that.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s great.
RUSH ARCHIVE: So it was a great day, and I personally wanted to publicly thank you for doing it, because it stirred my soul this week, it really has.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you’re a good man, and I can’t thank you enough for your kind words, and look forward to seeing you up here in Washington again. I’ll buy you another meal when you’re up here.
RUSH ARCHIVE: All right, I’ll take you up on that.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Rush.
RUSH ARCHIVE: Have a good weekend. President Bush.
RUSH: April 18th, 2008. He said, “That’s what presidents are supposed to do.” That’s the kind of thing presidents are supposed to do. And he’s right. And it doesn’t happen nearly enough. And when I heard The Battle Hymn of the Republic today at his library dedication, I thought, what a coincidence, what a coincidence. So thank you for indulging me in that. I could play that song a couple more times. I obsessed over it listening to it late at night on my computer at home after everybody had gone to bed. I was just alone with my thoughts. Glory, glory, hallelujah.
RUSH: Back to the phones we go to El Segundo, California. It’s great to have you on the phone. Laura, welcome to the EIB Network. Hello.
CALLER: Hi, Rush.
CALLER: I’ve been listening for more than 20 years. First-time caller.
RUSH: Well, I appreciate you being there. I really do. Thank you.
CALLER: My call is just a fun fact about The Battle Hymn of the Republic song that you played in your first hour.
RUSH: Yes, ma’am.
CALLER: I wanted to tell you that back in the early seventies I sang second soprano in the choir at Palmetto High School in central Florida and we sang that very same version in one of our concerts.
RUSH: Well, it’s a very, very touching version, this arrangement. There are many different arrangements.
CALLER: It is.
RUSH: The way the Army band chorus performed this song at the birthday celebration of the pope at the White House, when they — I’m a stickler for the minutest of details. The way they sang “glory, glory, halleluuuuu…” in that chorus beginning the second half of the song just sends chills up my spine. When I saw that the song was being performed again at the Bush Library today, I’m wondering, obviously it was chosen by somebody to be performed on both occasions, for George W. Bush Library today, birthday celebration for the pope and his state visit back in 2008. It was just… I don’t know. That song and its history just hit me deeply, profoundly.
CALLER: It’s a beautiful version, and I knew every place that song was going before it happened right down to the “amen, amen” at the end.
RUSH: Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate your calling and telling me that.