Monday, February 4, 2008

President's Daughter Visits Cullowhee

No, I’m not talking about one of those hard-drinkin’ Bush tarts. (But by the way, what is it about George and Laura Bush? They name one of their twins after his mom, and the other one after star. Google "Jenna" if you don't believe me. Is that weird or what?)

But no, I'm talking about Margaret Truman, who died last week at the age of 83.

I suspect you wouldn’t have to go far today to find someone who was in Cullowhee on October 4, 1949 to hear Margaret Truman sing. It must have been a memorable night:

CULLOWHEE, NC, Oct. 5 – Margaret Truman sang in Italian, German and English last night to an audience which traveled from all over Western North Carolina and jam-packed an auditorium in the little college town of Cullowhee to hear her.

The President’s daughter presented a program which ranged from opera to 18th century folk songs.

Miss Truman’s appearance at Western Carolina Teachers College, which excited the little school as nothing has in years, was the first of three North Carolina concerts of the soprano’s Southern tour.

Heck, this was even bigger than Jay Leno coming to town!

Just a month after her concert in Cullowhee, Truman made her first appearance in Carnegie Hall.

In 1947, Harry S Truman’s only child had made her professional singing debut with the Detroit Symphony. The radio broadcast attracted 15 million listeners and drew mixed reviews from the critics.

After a performance by the coloratura at Constitution Hall, Washington Post music critic Paul Hume said "she cannot sing very well…she is flat a good deal of the time" and added that she had no "professional finish…. Miss Truman is still too much of a vocal beginner to appear in public."

President Truman fired off an angry note to Hume:


Mr Hume:
I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay."

It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful.

When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work.

Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!

Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry.


You go, Harry! Or should I say, "Give 'em hell, Harry!"

After Hume released the note to the press, Margaret Truman defended her father, saying "I’m glad to see chivalry is not dead."

She went on to enjoy a career as a radio and television host, and later as a mystery writer and biographer. Her book, Murder in the White House reached the best-seller lists after its publication in 1980. And there was more where that came from. Like "Murder on Capitol Hill," "Murder in the Supreme Court," "Murder at the FBI," "Murder in Georgetown," "Murder at the Kennedy Center," "Murder at the National Cathedral" and "Murder at the National Gallery."

Margaret Truman became a celebrity almost as soon as her father assumed the presidency upon FDR’s death. According to the LA Times:

She set off something of a public relations food fight when she quietly instructed a waiter, "No potatoes, please," and later said she drank tomato juice while dieting. The Potato Growers Assn. quickly lodged an official complaint and peppered the White House with protest letters. The Tomato Growers Assn. countered with an onslaught of supportive letters. The groups waged a marketing war in the national media, touting the nutritional value of their products.

When Truman was photographed wearing a scarf, Women's Wear Daily editorialized that she had damaged the millinery industry -- a dispute quieted only after she wore a hat to another publicized event. Her hatted photo, in turn, set off protests from hairdressers.


Here’s to Margaret Truman (February 17, 1924 – January 29, 2008) who graced Cullowhee with her charm and talent almost sixty years ago.


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