The White House’s Concealed Albums

Spin Home: John Chuldenko at the White Residence in 2010. Photograph by Aric Avelino.

Just one of the benefits of being Jimmy Carter’s grandson is that you get to go to the family’s yearly journey, a collecting for the entire prolonged Carter clan that’s structured by the former President and 1st Girl. John Chuldenko—whose stepfather is Carter’s son Jack—loves to show up at these functions, which may well involve fishing in the Gulf of Mexico or lounging on a seaside in Panama. Considerably of the time is handed just hanging out, chatting, exchanging outdated tales.

It was during one these sojourn that Chuldenko initially read about the history assortment. His uncle Jeff was speaking about an incident that happened through a White Dwelling social gathering 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 residence with some pals, blasting a Rolling Stones album. Out of the blue, the doorway flew open and there stood Rosalynn Carter and 2nd Lady Joan Mondale, who reacted to the tunes with—

“Wait, what do you imply there have been data there?” Chuldenko wanted to know. “Where did you get data?”

Jeff stated that an official range of LPs was retained in the home. “So I’m like, ‘The White Property has its very own report selection?’ ” Chuldenko remembers. “ ‘Like, permanently?’ ” Jeff claimed he didn’t know nearly anything more about it, and the conversation moved on. But when Chuldenko returned house to Los Angeles, he could not allow it go. “That begun me down this rabbit gap,” he says.

Chuldenko is a resourceful guy with his hands in a great deal of projects—a writer, director, and producer who will work on anything from commercials to journal content articles to characteristic films. He’s also a huge collector of vinyl. So when he read about the doable existence of an formal White House file library, he bought enthusiastic. Possibly this could be a documentary movie, he thought. But mainly, he was just eager to know much more. He located a number of temporary articles about the selection on-line or else, details was sparse. Did the White House ever seriously have these kinds of a detail? Which albums ended up in it? And was it continue to there?

So Chuldenko did what any very good researcher would and contacted the library. Other than in this case—another perk of being an ex-President’s grandson—the establishment he attained out to was the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. An archivist there passed alongside details for somebody in the White Home curator’s business office. Chuldenko sent off an email and before long bought back again an unpromising reply. “Basically the response was ‘Yeah, I really don’t genuinely know what you are chatting about, but we’ll do some digging.’ ”

Chuldenko figured that may well be the final he heard from them, but inevitably he gained a different e-mail:

“Dear John: Of course, we do have a record selection stored at a protected offsite facility. Due to the fact it is protected, I can’t pass alongside the precise place of in which the documents are getting stored.”

That was it. “I will have to have read it seven periods,” Chuldenko says. “I necessarily mean, at that stage, all they experienced said was ‘We have it.’ It’s not ‘Hey, come see it.’ It was just: ‘It exists.’ ”


In a way, there are in fact two White Residence album collections. The initially was assembled in the early ’70s by the Recording Industry Association of The us, the DC trade team that signifies file businesses. The American Booksellers Association had donated tomes for a White Household guide library, the considering went, so why not a identical collection of new music?

The White Dwelling was receptive, and the RIAA place alongside one another a crew to pick music from the worlds of classical, jazz, well-liked songs, and so forth. Johnny Mercer was tapped to oversee the pop picks. In retrospect, this was an odd choice. The thought was to make a library that mirrored American preferences in the submit-Woodstock era. Mercer, in the meantime, was the “Moon River” guy—one of the all-time good songwriters, to be confident, but barely the individual to seize that era’s seismic musical achievements.

Mercer and his crew did their ideal to nod toward more modern day sounds—the first Doorways LP and Elton John’s US debut designed the cut—but their selections leaned closely on effortless listening: Lawrence Welk, Don Ho, Perry Como. Chuldenko likes to point out that there was the same quantity of Pat Boone albums as entries from the Beatles.

That very first selection of more than 1,800 LPs was presented to the White Household in 1973. But it’s the second quantity, place alongside one another at the conclusion of that 10 years, that is most intriguing. As soon as once more curated by the RIAA, it was meant to deliver the record library up to day. This time, the variety procedure would be headed by John Hammond, a hugely influential determine who experienced signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen. Hammond enlisted gurus to oversee each and every style, which include Modern day Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, who was dependable for jazz, and Boston audio critic Bob Blumenthal, who led the pop picks. “The thought of aiding choose the pop records for the songs library at the White Property just seemed like a gasoline, an huge amount of enjoyable,” suggests Package Rachlis, then tunes editor at the Boston Phoenix, who was one particular of Blumenthal’s advisers on the task. “Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

Points kicked off with a celebratory lunch at the White Home hosted by Rosalynn Carter. Blumenthal recalls that he took the option to truly feel out the President’s staff. “I try to remember obtaining visions of putting some rather transgressive things on the listing,” he claims. “There was an album by Randy Newman at the time known as Fantastic Previous Boys, and there’s a tune on there, ‘Rednecks,’ which is a person of the biggest critiques of the two Southern and Northern racism. I wished to set that in. His team man or woman claimed, ‘Oh, the President enjoys that album.’ I considered, Ok! That type of gave me license to make selections I considered would be a excellent, consultant sampling instead than owning to censor myself.”

The list was hashed out during classes in a Manhattan convention home, and real to Blumenthal’s eyesight, the selection was decidedly a lot more adventurous this time all around: soul, punk, salsa, gospel, funk, disco, and additional. There were noticeable picks representing rock-and-roll’s record, with entries from the likes of Chuck Berry, Minimal Richard, and Elvis Presley. And common preferences had been properly represented by artists these kinds of as Donna Summer time, Fleetwood Mac, and Earth, Wind & Fireplace. Blumenthal pressed for a Latin-songs portion that had data from Beny Moré, Joe Bataan, and Johnny Pacheco, between some others.

There had been also a lot of remaining-discipline LPs—music whose inclusion, Rachlis claims, made available “a selected kind of subversive joy.” Funkadelic’s Hardcore Jollies manufactured the lower, as did In no way Head the Bollocks, Here’s the Sexual intercourse Pistols and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Reproduction. A Gil Scott-Heron compilation. Talking Heads’ A lot more Songs About Properties and Meals. The Ramones’ Rocket to Russia. And this time about, there had been no options from Don Ho, whilst Barry Manilow’s Biggest Hits did lend an uncomplicated-listening note to the proceedings. (“I never know whether or not I would have involved that if I were being undertaking it nowadays,” says Blumenthal.)

The 2nd installment of the library was unveiled for the duration of a ceremony at the White Residence in early 1981, attended by the President and Initially Lady. At that stage, the Carters have been on their way out Blumenthal remembers seeing moving trucks outside the home. The collection was most likely taken out of the White Property not long thereafter and place into storage. Chuldenko thinks the Reagans ended up the kinds who sent it away—perhaps even just before the new LPs could be unpacked and included to the library. It is not like Ron and Nancy have been at any time going to be rocking out to “Teenage Lobotomy.”


Chuldenko was thrilled to discover that the songs library was true, but what he genuinely desired was to see it—and maybe in fact listen to some of the documents. Even an ex-President’s grandson just can’t just stroll into the White House, nonetheless, and in any case, the vinyl was socked absent in that top secret facility, which Chuldenko imagined seeking like the huge government warehouse at the stop of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Undaunted, Chuldenko put in an formal ask for to look at out the selection, describing that he was operating on a documentary movie. It took some time, but at some point the White Home offered to dig the records out and give him accessibility. So in December 2010, Chuldenko showed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a movie crew and a tiny team that provided Blumenthal and Rachlis. He also introduced a turntable and speakers.

Right after the group arrived, they were being ushered into the White Residence screening place. And there, lastly, was the selection: history-loaded boxes stacked up in entrance of the motion picture display screen. The LPs had been held in their unique sleeves, which were inserted into shade-coded binders (mild blue for pop, yellow for classical, and many others.). Every single was adorned with the presidential seal and a foil stamp that study WHITE Dwelling Document LIBRARY. The total thing reeked of gravitas and respectability—except that inside of a binder, rather than some speech sent by FDR in the ’40s, you could discover a mint-problem duplicate of Macho Person by the Village Men and women.

What to perform initially? They agreed on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, a profound and meditative report that has a way of reworking any listening session into a non secular encounter. As those people incredible opening Richard Davis bass notes floated from the speakers, President Obama was upstairs, occupied jogging the nation.

It was a surreal scene, but there ended up hundreds of records to check out and documentary footage to shoot, so they just held digging. “With every single box, there was this new treasure inside,” Chuldenko remembers. “I understood what was in there on paper, but it’s various when you really keep these documents. They had by no means been performed. It was like walking into a record store in 1979. They had been definitely pristine.”

At one position, they resolved to hear to a politically billed 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 refrain that had just about surely never ever rattled the partitions of the presidential residence prior to that instant. “We set that on,” Chuldenko claims, “and it was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m participating in the Clash . . . in the White Dwelling!’ I signify, what an unbelievable protest file. And it is not like I introduced it myself. I am playing the White House’s duplicate.”


Potentially about now you’re wondering how you can look at this intriguing documentary about the world’s most unique report collection. Nicely, you just can’t. In the stop, Chuldenko in no way did make the film 12 years later on, the footage stays unseen by the general public. He wasn’t ready to drum up the funding, he suggests, and he’s been fast paced with a long listing of other initiatives.

But some thing transpired at the stop of that excursion to the White House that has caught with him all these years—a relocating instant that has kept him invested. It arrived at the conclusion of the stop by, when a staffer arrived to politely advise it was time to wrap up and a few guys in overalls appeared with hand vehicles. “They get started packing up the packing containers and carrying them away,” Chuldenko says. “And it’s type of sad! I couldn’t aid but feel, ‘Wait a minute: These are heading again into deep, darkish storage—quite perhaps in no way to be viewed once more. And I really don’t want this to go absent.’ That was when I was like, ‘We’ve obtained to do a thing.’ ” At any time due to the fact, Chuldenko has been actively playing about with an concept: He would appreciate to by some means build a 3rd installment of the library.

After all, the present collection is missing all of the vital audio which is been introduced around the previous 4 a long time. “There is no rap or hip-hop in there,” suggests Chuldenko. “There’s no digital songs. There are no boy bands, no Madonna or Britney Spears. No Michael Jackson! I really do not know how you do a 3rd volume and not put in [Public Enemy’s] It Can take a Nation of Millions to Maintain Us Back or NWA. These are landmark data that helped to shape our society.”

Not long ago, his strategy has began to obtain some momentum. The White House Historical Association contacted Chuldenko a number of months in the past, asking him if he’d write about the record library for its quarterly journal and do a short interview on its podcast, The 1600 Sessions. That received him wondering about the footage he’d shot and the study he’d done—and also about that sadness he’d felt when the assortment was carted away.

Now he’s starting to get the job done on his very long-­gestating system to do a new installment. Fairly than assemble a bodily library, although, Chuldenko is contemplating this would be an in depth created playlist, which would be printed as a ebook. One idea is to have prominent people add album picks. Chuldenko would then film them speaking about their possibilities and integrate that footage into his documentary—which could be released in conjunction with the ebook. The White Home Historic Association truly revealed catalogs for the first two record collections (these very long-out-of-print books now bring significant income on the internet), so the idea helps make a good deal of feeling.

In addition it would be a blast to carry the collection into the 21st century. The White Residence report library “is a treasure, and folks have to have to know about it,” Chuldenko claims. “We want to update this. We’ve acquired a ton of catching up to do.”

This posting appears in the May possibly 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Politics and Society Editor

A DC indigenous, Rob Brunner moved back again to the town in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Earlier, he was an editor and author at Rapidly Organization and other publications. He has also prepared for the New York Periods Magazine, New York, and Rolling Stone, among the other people. He lives with his family members in Chevy Chase DC.