President Kennedy's Funeral Music

"Accurate Listing of Funeral Music"
by Irving Lowens, Washington Star music critic

(Reprinted from the Washington Star, 12/1/63.)

Last Monday, millions watched the solemn procession of the caisson from the Capitol to the White House, from the White House to St. Matthew's Cathedral, from the cathedral to Arlington National Cemetery and as they watched, heartsick, they listened.

What music did they hear?

Every momentous event breeds legends, and already the legends about the music that accompanied the dead march proliferate. Some are entirely wrong.

This is a verified listing of what was played and sung.

President Kennedy, I feel certain, would have wanted the record straight. He was devoted to the truth. An historian himself, he knew from personal experience that the romantic lie outruns the prosaic truth, and he knew that even in little things, there isn’t much sense in giving a false-hood a head start.

At the Capitol

10:48 a.m.- The coffin is placed on the caisson at Capitol Plaza as the Coast Guard Academy Band played "Ruffles and Flourishes" four times, "Hail to the Chief," and the hymn, "O God of Loveliness."

11 a.m. - The cortege clears Capitol Plaza and joins military units at Constitution avenue as the funeral procession begins. Three service bands marched in the following order: the Marine Band; the Navy Band; the Air Force Band. Each organization had an approved repertory of three pieces which were played during the 35-minute march as seemed appropriate. Marine Band selections were: "Our Fallen Heroes," "Holy, Holy, Holy," and "The Vanished Army"; Navy Band selections were the Beethoven "Funeral March," the R. B. Hall "Funeral March," and "Onward Christian Soldiers”; Air Force Band selections were the Chopin “Funeral March,” the hymn, “Vigor in Arduis” (Hymn to the Holy Name), and “America the Beautiful.”

At the White House

11:35 a.m.: The cortege arrives at the White House. The Naval Academy Catholic Choir sang three selections at the north portico: "Above the Hills of Time the Cross Is Gleaming" (Londonderry Air) "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," and "Dona Nobis Pacem."

11:40 a.m.: The cortege leaves the White House for St. Matthew’ s Cathedral. The music was provided by nine pipers from the Black Watch of the Royal Highlanders Regiment, who played "The Brown Haired Maiden," "The Badge of Scotland," "The 51st Highland Division,” and "The Barren Rocks of Aden."

12:08 p.m.: The cortege arrives at the cathedral. The Army Band plays “Ruffles and Flourishes” four times, “Hail to the Chief," and the hymn "Pray for the Dead."

At the Cathedral

12:13 p.m.: The bronze doors of the cathedral close and the requiem mass commences. The choral music during the mass was sung by the St. Matthew's Choir, Eugene Stewart, organist and choirmaster, the tenor soloist was Luigi Vena. The program was as follows: "Subvenite" (choir); "Pie Jesu," Leybach (tenor solo), "Ave Maria," Schubert (tenor solo); “In Manus Tuus,” Novello (tenor solo); “Sanctus and Benedictus,” Perosi (choir). Mr. Stewart conducted the Perosi "Sanctus and Benedictus;" the Gregorian "Subvenite" and the "In Paradisum" were led by James Walsh.

1:15 p.m.: The bronze doors of the cathedral open as the requiem mass is concluded. As the coffin was replaced on the caisson, the Army Band played "Ruffles and Flourishes" four times, "Hail to the Chief," and the hymn "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name."

1:30 p.m.: The funeral procession to Arlington National Cemetery begins. The music used was the same as that for the march from the Capitol to the White House, with the service bands proceeding in the same order.

At the Cemetery

2:43 p.m.: The cortege arrives at Arlington National Cemetery. The Marine Band played "Ruffles and Flourishes" four times and then "The Star Spangled Banner." As the coffin was moved from the caisson to the burial site, the Air Force Pipers played "Mist Covered Mountain."

3:08 p.m.: Following the 21-gun salute and the three artillery volleys, "Taps" was played by Army bugler Sgt. Keith Clark.

3:13 p.m.: During the closing flag-folding ceremony the Marine Band played the hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save."


The identification of the music played by the service bands was obtained from Capt. Gilbert H. Mitchell of the Army Band, who served as music co-ordinator for the Military District of Washington during the ceremonies.

The Navy Band supplied the titles of the pieces sung by the Naval Academy Catholic Choir at the north portico of the White House.

The pipe tunes used by the Black Watch were identified by Pipe Maj. Anderson of the Royal Highlanders Regiment through Mr. Derek Day of the British Embassy.

Mr. Eugene Stewart, organist at St. Matthew's Cathedral, furnished the names of the musical selections used in the requiem mass.