Throughout the Nixon Presidency, popular entertainers were invited to perform at the White House for special evenings in the East Room. As President Nixon describes in his memoirs, “Pat and I looked forward to the evenings of entertainment at the White House as much as any of our guests. We felt that performers invited to entertain after state dinners should reflect the whole spectrum of American tastes–and, incidentally, our own eclectic preferences.”
On March 17, 1973, Country and Western star Merle Haggard’s performance included a celebration of First Lady Pat Nixon’s birthday. The event was described the next day in The New York Times with an article titled “Merle Haggard Sings at Mrs. Nixon’s Party.”
After performing some of his greatest hits, Mr. Haggard remarked, “I don’t exactly know what to say except I know this will probably be the greatest evening of my life.” He went on to recite a poem that he wrote specifically for the First Lady’s birthday.
The President and First Lady both wore green for St. Patrick’s Day but the President’s festive attire was unplanned as described by his daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower in her book Pat Nixon: The Untold Story:
Early that morning on his way to the Oval Office, my father had admired footman (the archaic title for the men who assisted the White House ushers) Freddie Mayfield’s wide, kelly-green bow tie. Impulsively, he asked Freddie if he would mind trading neckwear for the evening. At 8 P.M. when the President greeted his guests at an evening of entertainment with country-and-western singer Merle Haggard, he was smiling broadly, Freddie’s green tie at his neck.
After the performance, President Nixon closed the evening with a special invitation to tour the White House, “So we say this house tonight is yours. Of course it belongs to all of you. You help pay the bills.” He continued, “We can’t offer you moonshine or Irish whiskey –but we’ve got California champagne, so watch out!”