Go, You Chicken Fat, Go! Kennedy Met the Music Man for Health (and Apple Takes a Bite)

meredith_willson_and_jfkWhat do you get when you pair Meredith Wilson, the writer-composer of The Music Man, with Robert Preston (who acted the starring role of Harold Hill, the traveling music-band instrument salesman) with a President committed to reversing the “softness” he saw in American health citizens?

You get “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go,” a rousing band-and-choir backed anthem to promote people to engage in more exercise and shed their “chicken fat.”

President Kennedy was the public health Prez who, in 1960, asked Meredith Wilson to pen a national anthem to motivate Americans who he considered were growing “soft.” Back in the 1960s, you see, the word “obesity” hadn’t been used in popular conversation very much. President Kennedy wrote The Soft American, an essay bemoaning the un-fitness of Americans, in Sports Illustrated‘s December 26, 1960 issue. In the column, JFK writes, “the knowledge that the physical well-being of the citizen is an important foundation for the vigor and vitality of all the activities of the nation, is as old as Western civilization itself. But it is a knowledge which today, in America, we are in danger of forgetting….For the physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources. If we waste and neglect this resource, if we allow it to dwindle and grow soft then we will destroy much of our ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront our people. We will be unable to realize our full potential as a nation.”

Soft American SI JFKAs a result, JFK established the White House Committee on Health and Fitness. Here’s more of that history from the JFK Library archives.

The full song, all 6+ minutes of it, has been archived on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum site.

And here’s a fun video you can watch to put you in the timeframe-context of pop culture of the time.

Here’s more backstory about Chicken Fat from the Detroit Kids Show website.

Now Apple has incorporated the video into an ad campaign for the iPhone 5S featuring athletic people in all kinds of fitness situations – doing push-ups, running, playing sports. The ad and trade press has been paying attention, cited by Adweek, who notes Apple is using a “soundtrack half a century old;” Forbes, expecting that that iPhone will be a “companion screen” for the company’s fitness devices; and, the MarketWatch blog, guessing that using the song hints that a health-oriented iWatch is on the way. For more on Apple’s latest moves into the digital health space, see Apple and Google and Samsung, Oh My!, here in Health Populi published on June 13, 2014.

For more Chicken Fat viewing goodness, here’s Apple’s use of Robert Preston’s Chicken Fat song used in the iPhone broadcast campaign.


Health Populi’s Hot Points:  “In a very real and immediate sense, our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security,” JFK wrote in the SI essay.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

Do we need a national health campaign the way Kennedy launched the Space Program or sent pressed copies of the Go, You Chicken Fat, Go record to public schools around the United States?

We’ve seen Accountable Care Organizations and Accountable Care Communities emerging around the country; let’s consider an Accountable Health National framework to promote public health and fitness once again.

I’m willing to do 10 push-ups in the morning if you are…

One Response to Go, You Chicken Fat, Go! Kennedy Met the Music Man for Health (and Apple Takes a Bite)

  1. ellenmmartin June 20, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    Thanks for posting this.
    I remember the record well–it was inflicted on me in 1960 when I was in the 3rd grade.
    The gym teachers were all about how wonderful this was going to be, and it was terrible!
    It was the first time in my life I was squirmingly embarrassed for a piece of music, especially since I had heard Preston’s performance in The Music Man on record.
    It’s a lousy exercise set, too–all fast old-style push-up and situp moves that little kids (I was the smallest and youngest in my class) had a hard time keeping up with.
    I had forgotten that the nanny-state fitness thing went this far back.
    An early brick on my road to libertarianism.

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