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The role of music in the 2024 presidential election (so far)

For their walkout songs during the 2024 election, candidates are largely relying on the go-to artists in the world of campaign music — artists like Lee Greenwood, Bruce Springsteen and Kid Rock

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Zoë Petersen, Deseret News

Political anthems to bolster support for candidates and galvanize crowds have existed in the U.S. for nearly as long as the country itself has existed. In 1798, Thomas Paine (later known as Robert) penned the lyrics to the song “Adams and liberty.”

Incumbent president John Adams adopted the song as his campaign anthem for the 1800 election, and the tradition of using music in campaigns continued for centuries afterward. Both popular songs and commissioned tracks have been used.

As presidential hopefuls have started outreach, music has been part of the campaign trail. From Politico Magazine asking candidates what tunes spark “instant joy” for them to GOP hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy rapping Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at the Iowa state fair (which was followed by a cease-and-desist letter), music has sparked conversation and controversy.

Here’s a closer look at the history of campaign songs and the role music has played (so far) in the 2024 presidential election.

History of campaign anthems

Following “Adams and liberty,” the tradition of including signature songs continued. It was common for candidates to commission songs specifically for their campaign.

James Madison used the song “Huzzah for Madison, Huzzah” in 1808, which was a custom tune used to rally voters, per Variety. Some of the lyrics read, “And should the Tories all unite / And join again with British foes / Though Satan might applaud the sight / The heavens would soon interpose.”

The commissioning of songs continued through the 1900s, a real standout being William Henry Harrison’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” in 1840. Al Jolson composed a song for Warren G. Harding in 1920, with the following lyrics: “So it’s Harding, leading the GOP / Harding, on to victory / We’re here to make a fuss / Warren Harding you’re the man for us,” according to Variety.

Candidates would eventually move away from commissioned songs and instead, use popular songs to walk out to.

During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign selected “Happy Days Are Here Again” for his campaign song in 1932, Time magazine reported. It was a cheerful song during a difficult part of American history.

During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush played on repeat Tom Petty’s 1989 hit song “I Won’t Back Down” during his appearances. However, Bush’s use of the song came to a halt when Petty’s publisher sent a cease-and-desist letter, per Time magazine.

Some artists like Kid Rock, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie and Lee Greenwood have been used multiple times by candidates on both sides of the aisle.

In 2012, Barack Obama used Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” per Variety. Another presidential candidate who has invoked Springsteen’s music is Ronald Reagan, according to a study from the Deseret News’ entertainment reporter Lottie Johnson and BYU communications professors Scott Haden Church and Quint Randle.

President Joe Biden has used “We Take Care of Our Own” as well.

George H.W. Bush and Sen. Bernie Sanders also have a song in common: Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Sanders used it to close out rallies and Bush also used the song during his 1988 presidential campaign.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” has been used multiple times, especially by the Republican Party and its candidates. Reagan used it in 1984 and it’s been at “nearly every Republican convention since,” according to Variety. Donald Trump has also been known to use the song.

Campaign anthems tend to veer more toward the classics than the hits of the day, although Hillary Clinton has been known to pull from more contemporary music, using songs like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.

What walkout songs are candidates using in 2024?

For their walkout songs during the 2024 election, candidates are largely relying on the go-to artists in the world of campaign music — artists like Greenwood, Springsteen and Kid Rock.

Former President Trump is using Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Former Gov. Nikki Haley is playing “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Sen. Tim Scott has selected “Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)” by Gap Band. Pence picked the same song Sen. Mitt Romney did in 2012: “Born Free” by Kid Rock, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is using Springsteen’s “No Surrender,” according to the Deseret News.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has chosen Rick Derringer’s “Real American,” while former Gov. Asa Hutchinson walks out to “Arkansas” by Chris Stapleton. Gov. Doug Burgum has used “Every Small Town” by Ben Gallaher, per the Deseret News.

On the Democratic side, when President Joe Biden gave a speech in Ireland, he used “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys, according to Boston.com. While not a campaign walkout song, it gives a flavor of what music Biden may use as the campaign heats up.

In the past, Marianne Williamson has used a variety of walkout songs. Grammy Award-winning artist Alanis Morissette recorded a song for Williamson in 2014, according to ABC News. During the 2020 election, she used “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, per Billboard.