Home Sweet Home: Adelina Patti, the Soprano Who Sang for President Abraham Lincoln

By Louise Burton on Feb 12, 2014 04:04 PM EST

In 1906, at the very end of her career, the legendary soprano Adelina Patti recorded several songs for the phonograph, which was then a new invention. One of the songs she chose was the sentimental ballad "Home Sweet Home," with music by Henry Bishop, which was extremely popular in the United States during the Civil War era.

Patti was in her 60s when she made this recording, her voice still strong and clear. As such, the recording is a rare memento of one of the great voices of the 19th century.

But there is a second reason to admire this recording, one that has to do with the 16th President of the United States.

In 1862, during the Civil War, Patti visited the White House and sang for Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Patti was then only 19, the daughter of an Italian musical family who had emigrated to the U.S., but already a well-known opera singer.

The Lincolns enjoyed hosting musical entertainments, which were often performed in the Red Room. Mrs. Lincoln told Patti, "I have wanted to see you--to see the young girl who has done so much, who has set the whole world talking of her wonderful singing."

Patti sang a number of popular songs that day, ending with "Home Sweet Home," a song requested by Lincoln, himself.

1862 was not a happy time for the White House. The war was in its second dreadful year, with no end in sight. Lincoln's third son, Willie, died earlier that year, and the family was still in mourning. Into this time of sadness came the young soprano, who had made her operatic debut just three years earlier, to entertain and hopefully distract her listeners from their sorrows.

She sang "Home Sweet Home" then, just as she would record it 44 years later.

"I sang the song the very best I could do it," Patti later wrote. "When Mr. Lincoln thanked me, his voice was husky and his eyes were full of tears."

Listeners today who hear Patti's recording are hearing the same voice and the same song that soothed Lincoln's pain so many years ago. That voice is our connection to the man himself. He heard it, and we hear it now. And in admiring it, we share a connection, however tenuous, with Abraham Lincoln.

From that time on, the song became associated with Patti, and she frequently sang it as an encore. Of course, Patti went on to enjoy a long and celebrated career as one of the 19th century's great coloratura sopranos.

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TagsAdelina Patti, Abraham Lincoln, White House, Mary Todd Lincoln, Home Sweet Home

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