From Pat Boone to the Sex Pistols: Inside the Secret White House Record Collection

Updated May 18, 2022 at 5:19 PM ET

It all started with a Carter family vacation around 2008-09.

John Chuldenko’s uncle Jeff Carter – the son of former President Jimmy Carter – spoke about a night at the White House during his father’s administration in the late 1970s.

Uncle Jeff wasn’t sure if it was a state dinner, but it was “something fancy,” Chuldenko recalled as he said.

Later that evening, presumably after the fancy dinner, Uncle Jeff snuck up to the residence with some friends and they started playing records and “drinking wine and stuff”. They performed The Rolling Stones, specifically the song “Star Star” from their 1973 album Goat’s Head Soup.

Not rated PG, the song caught the attention of Uncle Jeff’s mother, Rosalynn Carter, and then-Second Lady Joan Mondale. Apparently they didn’t stay long.

Back to Chuldenko and Carter’s annual family vacation, which he tells NPR he’s pretty sure he was in Florida that year. Chuldenko was fascinated by the records and wondered where they came from. Uncle Jeff blew his mind when he told him the White House had an official record collection.

But was it true? He needed validation.

Shortly after the holidays, Chuldenko decided to contact the White House Board of Trustees to confirm, and to his surprise, they got back to him a few days later. They confirmed the existence of the White House record collection but said it was kept in a secure facility in a warehouse he was not allowed to visit.

But he insisted and asked to see the record collection at the White House, but that had to be cleared by First Lady Michelle Obama’s office. It was.

Chuldenko quickly began planning the trip, contacting some of the people curating the collection, such as jazz critic Bob Blumenthal and one of his advisers, Kit Rachlis — both of whom accompanied him to the White House later that same year — just days before Christmas 2010

“We go in and they’re all in these boxes,” Chuldenko recalls of the visit. “And it’s like, Whoa. Here I am in the White House downstairs in the theater, rummaging through these records embossed in binders with the President’s seal on them. It’s the coolest thing ever for a record collector. It’s the most exclusive record library in the world, probably.”

So they start rolling out their favorites including: The Woodstock Soundtrack, Neil Youngs Decade, Elvis Costello’s self-titled Clash record my goal is trueand Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

So which record did you play first? One of Chuldenko’s favourites: Van Morrisons Astral Weeks.

After hours in the White House screening room, someone came down from the curator’s office and said it was time to go.

“We put everything back where it belongs and they came in with these dollies and started rolling away these boxes of records – and I think it was at that moment that I realized they were going to put that back in the safe storage.” “, says Chuldenko. “No one will ever see these again.”

Through this visit, research and interviews, he learned a lot about this mysterious record collection. The first volume created and presented during the Nixon administration to the first family in 1973, contained more than 1,800 LPs and featured bands from Elton John and The Doors to easy-listening acts like Don Ho and Pat Boone.

The second volume, presented to the Carters in 1981, was a little more rock ‘n’ roll and featured records from the likes of Chuck Berry, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Along with some records that Chuldenko calls controversial. “The first Clash album is in there, the Sex Pistols are in there,” he says. “Missile to Russia is in there by The Ramones. There’s Funkadelic in there. There are some things you wouldn’t expect to see in the White House Record Library.”

What’s also not in the White House Record Library is anything from 1980 to the present, and Chuldenko wants to change that by updating the collection with a third volume.

Will he succeed? He’s only allowed. He scheduled a call Wednesday with someone from the Recording Industry Association of America — the people responsible for the 1970s collection.

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