Thursday, November 13, 2014



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) The most celebrated cellist of the 20th century, Pablo Casals*, performed 53 years ago this evening, November 13, 1961, for President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, along with an audience which included a group of noted American composers.

Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland were among the notables who attended the concert.  The performance was recorded and released as an album.

Mr. Casals, who last played at the White House in 1904 for President Theodore Roosevelt, accepted JFK's invitation despite his self-imposed boycott of performing in countries which had recognized the government of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

Pablo Casals Performs
November 13, 1961
Photo by Cecil Stoughton
JFK Library Photo

Martita Casals**, Pablo's wife, later said that her husband accepted JFK's invitation because of Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy's support for the arts and because "he felt that music had to contribute to freedom and to peace."

She described the evening as "magical" and said that when it was over, Mrs. Kennedy followed them all the way out to their car.

*Pablo Casals (1876-1973) was born in El Vendrell, Catalonia, Spain.  His father was a parish organist and choirmaster.  Pablo was taught flute, organ, piano and violin.  

He studied music in Barcelona where he graduated from Escola Municipal de Musica in 1896.  He made his debut at Carnegie Hall on March 9, 1904.

Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals at the White House
November 13, 1961
Photo by Robert Knudsen
White House Photo

**Martita and Pablo married when she was 20. He was 81.  The story goes that he did not tell his doctor of his intentions until after the engagement.  The doctor said to him: "You'd better think carefully before you do this...this could be fatal."

Pablo said nothing for a few moments, reflecting on the doctor's words.

Then he said: "Well, you know, if she dies, she dies!"


 "The Kennedys' Camelot Culture", AARP, Feb. 23, 2011.