- Jan 8, 2012
I've never heard that. Perhaps he was a poor singer and that might have made people (mistakenly) say that. But unlike someone with amusia, Lincoln loved music.
Looks like that line about only knowing two songs was popular. It was used by Grant famously for Yankee Doodle, and by Lincoln too:
"Mr. Lincoln’s professed knowledge of music was limited. He claimed “I know only two tunes, one is ‘Old Hundred,’ and the other isn’t.”7
(This is from a good article about Linclon and music: http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-music/)
However, he liked a number of other tunes, including Dixie, which he enjoyed immensely before the war; however, it appears he refrained from requesting until the war was over (from the same article):
"On April 10, according to John Brigham, “”Some two hundred youths, mostly employed in the departments, headed by the band of music engaged for the occasion, armed to the White House to welcome President Lincoln back from the front…After listening to the music, the President good naturedly complied with our demand for speech.”52 When President Lincoln spoke to the serenade, he asked the band that accompanied the serenading group to play Dixie: “I see you have a band of music with you. [Voices, ‘We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is one, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appreciate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.'”53 When Dixie was played, recalled Brigham, “The President kept time with his foot, and a genial smile made his strong, homely face almost beautiful.”54 Mr. Lincoln told Noah Brooks: “I just feel like marching, always, when that tune is played.”55 For an encore, the band played “Yankee Doodle.”56
Another source has him requesting Dixie when he received news of Lee's surrender and again that it be played at his last public address from the White House, which he was never able to give. This article also maintains that Lincoln even carried a harmonica at one point in his life:
"He did carry a Hohner harmonica in his pocket. “Why, even Honest Abe Lincoln wasn’t above playing a tune or two on the harmonica when the occasion demanded”, as Carl Sandburg related in his book Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. "
(More about Lincoln's favorite tunes here: http://blog.themusicalnose.com/?p=1233)