The phrase -- "Hail to the Chief" -- originated in Scotland in 1810 as part of a poem by Sir Walter Scott. The poem, "The Lady of the Lake," had nothing to do with the United States, or with the presidency.
But the story told in the poem's plot became a British stage play that made it across the ocean within a few years. Among the songs that came to the United States as part of the play was "Hail to the Chief," written by James Sanderson.
It was given new lyrics to honor the presidency, and reportedly was used in that context for the first time at an 1815 ceremony to commemorate the birthday of George Washington. It was played at the inaugurations of Presidents Martin Van Buren in 1837 and John Tyler in 1841, according to historians, and during the administration of President James Polk from 1845 to 1849 it became routinely played any time the president entered a room during public occasions.
Not everyone was in love with the song. President Chester A. Arthur, who served from 1881 to 1885, directed the leader of the Marine Band to compose a new one to replace it.
Fortunately for Arthur, the leader of the Marine Band at the time was a pretty fair songwriter -- a young Marine sergeant major by the name of John Philip Sousa. He came up with a new tune called "Presidential Polonaise."
Unfortunately for "Presidential Polonaise," it never caught on, and "Hail to the Chief" made a return. Sousa was undeterred; he would go on to write, among other patriotic classics, "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
President Jimmy Carter, in seeking to make the trappings of his presidency a little less regal, asked that "Hail to the Chief" not be played when he made public entrances. This turned out to be a highly unpopular decision. Carter would later tell CBS News: "One of the most unpleasant things that surprised me was when I quit having 'Hail to the Chief' every time I entered a room, but there was an outcry of condemnation." Before long, "Hail to the Chief" was back.
The Marine Band continues to play it as presidents make their entrances. The words, however, continue to mostly go unsung, and that will almost certainly be the case during the inaugural festivities these next few days.
In the spirit of the history of this -- and as a nod to what might have been -- we leave you with a parting gift of music.
On behalf of Chester A. Arthur, please click and enjoy the song you never got the chance to tap your feet to. Ladies and gentlemen, the Mount Prospect, Illinois, Community Band performs, for your listening pleasure, "Presidential Polonaise."
Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.
Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.