The White House’s Concealed Albums

Spin Room: John Chuldenko at the White Dwelling in 2010. Photograph by Aric Avelino.

One of the perks of getting Jimmy Carter’s grandson is that you get to go to the family’s yearly trip, a gathering for the total prolonged Carter clan which is arranged by the previous President and 1st Lady. John Chuldenko—whose stepfather is Carter’s son Jack—loves to attend these events, which may well require fishing in the Gulf of Mexico or lounging on a beach in Panama. A lot of the time is passed just hanging out, chatting, exchanging outdated stories.

It was for the duration of one particular such sojourn that Chuldenko to start with heard about the history selection. His uncle Jeff was chatting about an incident that took place all through a White House celebration again in the course of the Carter administration. Jeff—Jimmy Carter’s youngest son, who was in his twenties at the time—was hanging out upstairs in the home with some mates, blasting a Rolling Stones album. Instantly, the doorway flew open and there stood Rosalynn Carter and Second Girl Joan Mondale, who reacted to the new music with—

“Wait, what do you indicate there had been records there?” Chuldenko needed to know. “Where did you get records?”

Jeff stated that an formal assortment of LPs was held in the residence. “So I’m like, ‘The White Residence has its have record selection?’ ” Chuldenko recalls. “ ‘Like, permanently?’ ” Jeff said he did not know just about anything more about it, and the conversation moved on. But when Chuldenko returned home to Los Angeles, he couldn’t allow it go. “That begun me down this rabbit hole,” he says.

Chuldenko is a resourceful person with his hands in a lot of projects—a author, director, and producer who will work on everything from commercials to journal articles or blog posts to characteristic movies. He’s also a large collector of vinyl. So when he heard about the feasible existence of an formal White Home file library, he got thrilled. Probably this could be a documentary film, he assumed. But mainly, he was just keen to know far more. He uncovered a handful of brief content articles about the collection on the internet in any other case, details was sparse. Did the White Property ever definitely have this sort of a factor? Which albums have been in it? And was it however there?

So Chuldenko did what any superior researcher would and contacted the library. Other than in this case—another perk of staying an ex-President’s grandson—the institution he achieved out to was the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. An archivist there handed along data for anyone in the White House curator’s office. Chuldenko sent off an electronic mail and soon obtained back again an unpromising reply. “Basically the response was ‘Yeah, I do not definitely know what you’re conversing about, but we’ll do some digging.’ ”

Chuldenko figured that may well be the previous he listened to from them, but inevitably he received an additional electronic mail:

“Dear John: Of course, we do have a record collection saved at a safe offsite facility. Since it is protected, I can’t go along the exact spot of where by the data are remaining stored.”

That was it. “I should have go through it 7 occasions,” Chuldenko states. “I imply, at that stage, all they experienced explained was ‘We have it.’ It is not ‘Hey, occur see it.’ It was just: ‘It exists.’ ”

In a way, there are in fact two White Household album collections. The very first was assembled in the early ’70s by the Recording Field Affiliation of The us, the DC trade group that represents file organizations. The American Booksellers Association had donated tomes for a White Residence ebook library, the contemplating went, so why not a very similar selection of songs?

The White Home was receptive, and the RIAA put alongside one another a team to find new music from the worlds of classical, jazz, well known music, and so forth. Johnny Mercer was tapped to oversee the pop picks. In retrospect, this was an odd choice. The strategy was to establish a library that mirrored American preferences in the post-Woodstock period. Mercer, in the meantime, was the “Moon River” guy—one of the all-time great songwriters, to be confident, but hardly the human being to capture that era’s seismic musical achievements.

Mercer and his team did their best to nod toward far more contemporary sounds—the to start with Doors LP and Elton John’s US debut made the cut—but their options leaned greatly on effortless listening: Lawrence Welk, Don Ho, Perry Como. Chuldenko likes to place out that there was the similar number of Pat Boone albums as entries from the Beatles.

That first assortment of a lot more than 1,800 LPs was offered to the White Home in 1973. But it is the 2nd quantity, set alongside one another at the close of that decade, which is most intriguing. As soon as once more curated by the RIAA, it was meant to carry the file library up to date. This time, the selection method would be headed by John Hammond, a massively influential figure who had signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen. Hammond enlisted gurus to oversee each individual genre, which includes Present day Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, who was dependable for jazz, and Boston audio critic Bob Blumenthal, who led the pop picks. “The strategy of encouraging opt for the pop data for the audio library at the White House just seemed like a gas, an enormous total of entertaining,” claims Kit Rachlis, then music editor at the Boston Phoenix, who was a single of Blumenthal’s advisers on the undertaking. “Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

Issues kicked off with a celebratory lunch at the White Property hosted by Rosalynn Carter. Blumenthal recalls that he took the prospect to really feel out the President’s employees. “I don’t forget getting visions of placing some reasonably transgressive things on the checklist,” he says. “There was an album by Randy Newman at the time called Very good Previous Boys, and there’s a tune on there, ‘Rednecks,’ which is one of the best critiques of each Southern and Northern racism. I required to put that in. His staff members individual claimed, ‘Oh, the President loves that album.’ I believed, Alright! That form of gave me license to make options I thought would be a fantastic, agent sampling fairly than owning to censor myself.”

The list was hashed out throughout classes in a Manhattan conference place, and legitimate to Blumenthal’s vision, the selection was decidedly extra adventurous this time all-around: soul, punk, salsa, gospel, funk, disco, and additional. There were being evident picks representing rock-and-roll’s record, with entries from the likes of Chuck Berry, Small Richard, and Elvis Presley. And well-known tastes were effectively represented by artists these as Donna Summer time, Fleetwood Mac, and Earth, Wind & Fireplace. Blumenthal pressed for a Latin-new music part that experienced data from Beny Moré, Joe Bataan, and Johnny Pacheco, amongst some others.

There were also lots of remaining-area LPs—music whose inclusion, Rachlis claims, available “a sure type of subversive joy.” Funkadelic’s Hardcore Jollies produced the lower, as did Never Intellect the Bollocks, Here’s the Intercourse Pistols and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Reproduction. A Gil Scott-Heron compilation. Conversing Heads’ Additional Songs About Properties and Meals. The Ramones’ Rocket to Russia. And this time close to, there were being no alternatives from Don Ho, while Barry Manilow’s Finest Hits did lend an easy-listening notice to the proceedings. (“I never know regardless of whether I would have integrated that if I were carrying out it today,” claims Blumenthal.)

The second installment of the library was unveiled in the course of a ceremony at the White Residence in early 1981, attended by the President and First Woman. At that position, the Carters were being on their way out Blumenthal remembers looking at going trucks exterior the home. The assortment was most likely taken out of the White Residence not prolonged thereafter and place into storage. Chuldenko thinks the Reagans ended up the ones who despatched it away—perhaps even right before the new LPs could be unpacked and included to the library. It is not like Ron and Nancy ended up ever heading to be rocking out to “Teenage Lobotomy.”

Chuldenko was thrilled to master that the tunes library was real, but what he genuinely needed was to see it—and probably in fact hear to some of the information. Even an ex-President’s grandson just can’t just walk into the White House, nonetheless, and in any case, the vinyl was socked absent in that magic formula facility, which Chuldenko imagined wanting like the broad federal government warehouse at the stop of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Undaunted, Chuldenko set in an official ask for to look at out the assortment, outlining that he was functioning on a documentary movie. It took some time, but eventually the White Dwelling presented to dig the information out and give him entry. So in December 2010, Chuldenko showed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a film crew and a modest team that incorporated Blumenthal and Rachlis. He also introduced a turntable and speakers.

Soon after the team arrived, they ended up ushered into the White Household screening area. And there, eventually, was the selection: file-filled packing containers stacked up in entrance of the film display. The LPs experienced been held in their unique sleeves, which were being inserted into shade-coded binders (light blue for pop, yellow for classical, and so forth.). Just about every was adorned with the presidential seal and a foil stamp that examine WHITE Dwelling Report LIBRARY. The complete point reeked of gravitas and respectability—except that inside of a binder, relatively than some speech delivered by FDR in the ’40s, you may well obtain a mint-ailment duplicate of Macho Guy by the Village Persons.

What to enjoy first? They agreed on Van Morrison’s Astral Months, a profound and meditative record that has a way of transforming any listening session into a religious experience. As those people incredible opening Richard Davis bass notes floated from the speakers, President Obama was upstairs, busy running the nation.

It was a surreal scene, but there were being thousands of documents to check out and documentary footage to shoot, so they just held digging. “With every single box, there was this new treasure within,” Chuldenko remembers. “I knew what was in there on paper, but it is distinct when you actually keep these information. They had in no way been performed. It was like going for walks into a report keep in 1979. They have been completely pristine.”

At just one place, they made a decision to hear to a politically charged punk-rock landmark: the Clash’s self-titled 1977 debut. “I’m so bo-o-ored with the U-S-A!” Joe Strummer snarled—a chorus that had pretty much surely never rattled the partitions of the presidential residence prior to that moment. “We put that on,” Chuldenko suggests, “and it was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m enjoying the Clash . . . in the White Residence!’ I necessarily mean, what an extraordinary protest document. And it is not like I introduced it myself. I am enjoying the White House’s duplicate.”

Most likely about now you’re pondering how you can check out this intriguing documentary about the world’s most unique record assortment. Well, you can’t. In the conclude, Chuldenko in no way did make the film 12 decades later, the footage continues to be unseen by the general public. He was not capable to drum up the financing, he says, and he’s been chaotic with a prolonged list of other projects.

But a thing occurred at the close of that excursion to the White Home that has stuck with him all these years—a shifting second that has stored him invested. It came at the finish of the stop by, when a staffer arrived to politely counsel it was time to wrap up and a few fellas in overalls appeared with hand vans. “They begin packing up the bins and carrying them absent,” Chuldenko suggests. “And it’s kind of unhappy! I couldn’t enable but imagine, ‘Wait a moment: These are going back again into deep, dim storage—quite maybe by no means to be seen all over again. And I don’t want this to go absent.’ That was when I was like, ‘We’ve obtained to do some thing.’ ” Ever given that, Chuldenko has been taking part in all over with an thought: He would appreciate to in some way build a 3rd installment of the library.

Following all, the latest selection is lacking all of the essential audio that’s been released more than the previous 4 a long time. “There is no rap or hip-hop in there,” says Chuldenko. “There’s no digital music. There are no boy bands, no Madonna or Britney Spears. No Michael Jackson! I don’t know how you do a third volume and not set in [Public Enemy’s] It Can take a Country of Millions to Keep Us Back or NWA. These are landmark information that helped to condition our culture.”

Not too long ago, his concept has began to get some momentum. The White House Historical Association contacted Chuldenko a couple of months ago, inquiring him if he’d write about the record library for its quarterly journal and do a short job interview on its podcast, The 1600 Periods. That acquired him considering about the footage he’d shot and the investigate he’d done—and also about that unhappiness he’d felt when the selection was carted absent.

Now he’s commencing to function on his lengthy-­gestating plan to do a new installment. Instead than assemble a bodily library, however, Chuldenko is considering this would be an intensive published playlist, which would be revealed as a ebook. A person plan is to have outstanding people lead album picks. Chuldenko would then movie them conversing about their decisions and include that footage into his documentary—which could be launched in conjunction with the reserve. The White Home Historic Affiliation basically posted catalogs for the initially two report collections (these long-out-of-print publications now carry major dollars on-line), so the plan can make a whole lot of perception.

Additionally it would be a blast to bring the collection into the 21st century. The White Household file library “is a treasure, and folks have to have to know about it,” Chuldenko says. “We need to have to update this. We have bought a good deal of catching up to do.”

This write-up seems in the May well 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Politics and Tradition Editor

A DC indigenous, Rob Brunner moved again to the city in 2017 to be part of Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and author at Fast Business and other publications. He has also created for the New York Instances Magazine, New York, and Rolling Stone, among other folks. He lives with his family members in Chevy Chase DC.