Abraham Lincoln and Music

What can we learn about Abraham Lincoln from his taste in music?


Age range: Good for 13-18 year olds

Estimated Time: Each of the three podcasts are under five minutes in length.

Key Technology: Computer, Internet, Speakers or headphones, iTunes or QuickTime

Subscribe to this audio series:

This interactive explores President Lincoln’s taste in music. The three short audio clips address Lincoln’s love of the theater and popular music as well as the impact that music had on his political campaigns and presidency. Also considered is the relationship of music to the Civil War.

Think About...

Before you get started, think of what you already know about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Era. Keep this in mind as you explore the interactive and listen to the podcasts.

As you listen, compare and contrast the ways in which people experience music today and how they experienced it during the nineteenth century.

After listening to each podcast, make a list of the main points presented in it. Also, write down at least one question you had after listening.


  • In what ways did music affect Abraham Lincoln?
  • What does Lincoln’s personal taste in theater and music tell us about his personality?

Critical Thinking

  • How do politicians use of music in today’s campaigns?
  • Music in Lincoln’s era was “participatory” according to the podcast. In an era of iPods and smartphones, how does music remain participatory today, if at all?


Quiz Yourself!

  • Which opera did Lincoln see four times?
  • Why was Verdi’s A Masked Ball prophetic?
  • What were some themes of popular music in the Civil War Era?

Learn More

Dig Deeper!

Watch the music video and read the lyrics for Will.I.Am’s song “Yes We Can” which was written during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Read Will.I.Am’s story about why he wrote “Yes We Can.”

Compare and contrast Will.I.Am’s song with “Lincoln and Liberty” by Jesse Hutchinson.

For the Educator


This interactive is a great way to enhance a unit on the Civil War or to study President Lincoln as an individual. It offers many opportunities to connect to the modern world and popular culture, including references to High School Musical, the Jonas Brothers and Will.I.Am. The interactive can be especially relevant in an election year when political ads are ubiquitous.


Instructional Strategies

  • This interactive can be listened to using speakers for the whole class to hear or students can listen individually using headphones.
  • A brief discussion should follow each podcast with a summative discussion after listening to all three. Some topics for discussion include:
  • Compare and contrast the way people today listen to and interact with music with how people of the nineteenth century did.
  • What can we learn about Abraham Lincoln’s character and beliefs based on his musical preferences?
  • What kind of music and theater do you think Confederacy president Jefferson Davis would have liked and listened to?
  • Give students an excerpt from a variety of different presidential campaign speeches. Have them choose a popular song that they feel shares similar themes with the speech and have them write new lyrics to the song based on phrases from the speech.

Assessment Ideas

  • Have students conduct research on a president of their choice and his musical tastes. When students have finished researching, have them present their findings to the rest of the class.
  • Ask students to choose and research a popular song that promotes a social or political agenda. Have them analyze the lyrics and explain any references to current events or issues.
  • Assign students songs that would have been popular with southerners during the Civil War era. Have students write an essay comparing and contrasting the themes of music that characterized the Union and the Confederacy.


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