Pianist David Osborne hails the chief with a song
By Nina King
Photo by Christopher DeVargas
It must be a thrill to meet the president of the United States. But what if you’ve met five of them? And entertained them all? That’s the case for Bellagio pianist David Osborne.
Osborne has been tagged Pianist to the Presidents, and with good reason. He not only plays at White House functions, but has also done so for so many years that he has played there more than any other living pianist, with about 30 engagements and counting.
Over the 2012 winter holiday, Osborne again played in Washington, D.C., creating a welcoming atmosphere for the friends and families looking over the festive scene in the Barack Obama White House.
It all started almost 30 years ago, when he met former President Jimmy Carter at an Orlando, Fla., book signing. Osborne, long a fan of Carter’s, waited in a huge line to meet him—and to give him one of Osborne’s own records, signed and with his phone number on it. “And in about two weeks, I received a phone call from … Maranatha Baptist Church (Carter’s church), asking if I wanted to play there,” recalled Osborne.
That first engagement was the start of something big. Over the course of the next few years, Osborne said, “Every few months I would go to Plains (Ga.) and play; I would do a concert for him or a birthday party, or just play for Sunday school and the church service.”
After President George H.W. Bush entered the White House, Carter sent along a suggestion that Osborne might be a good fit to play at The White House. Osborne played several times during Bush’s administration. And playing in the White House and for the presidents has continued through today; Osborne has played for presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as well.
“It’s been an evolution for me, if you will, knowing President Carter and playing for him. He’s made all these things happen for me. I was surprised, with the change in administrations, that they’ve kept me going,” said Osborne.
And, through the years, Carter and Osborne have continued their relationship; Osborne actually planned Carter’s 75th birthday celebration and has been asked to play at his memorial service. “When he first asked me,” Osborne said, “I was a little emotional about it, but he’ll be 89 on October the first; I’m coming to the realization that, hey, he’s not going to be around forever.”
Presidential engagements aren’t the only thing going for Osborne. The Steinway artist now plays five nights a week at the Bellagio (he also played Caesars Palace for many years), records and has his own trio.
But being the Pianist to the Presidents certainly has its own rewards: Osborne has even played with a president. “When Clinton was there, it was always unscripted,” said Osborne. “He’s very musical and he would … sit down on the bench with me and say, ‘Let me see that lick.’ I think that was unusual. Here’s the president of the United States, acting like a normal person.”