What Happened To Bill Clinton's Inaugural Ball Saxophone?

Folks of a certain age might recall seeing future President Bill "Bubba" Clinton don his iconic black sunglasses and hammer out "Heartbreak Hotel" on the keys of a saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1992. "How cool he is!" folks thought. He plays the sax and keeps it straight with "the youth vote." He's wearing a suit but chows down on McDonald's. He speaks politics but through a charming little smirk and an accent suited to a genteel Southern porch in summer. In fact, Papa Clinton's campaign leaned heavily into his image of cool and captured the "MTV Generation," as The New York Times said in 1992, down to him smoking pot while proclaiming that he "didn't inhale." It's okay, Mr. President. That stuff's legal now.

Clinton's televised sax-blowing "wow" moment wasn't the last time he brandished the brass in public. He played the Newport Jazz Festival, did an impromptu performance in Prague, Czechia (captured in bootleg form on "Bill Clinton Jam Session: The Pres Blows"), and joined the Blues Brothers at the Mohegan Sun Casino, among other instances. But most famously, Clinton played a celebratory sax on the night that rock legends Fleetwood Mac played during his inauguration ball on January 19, 1993. In 2007 Clinton donated his inaugural saxophone to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2021 it went to auction and sold for $13,000, as Live Auctioneers shows.

Bought, blown, donated, and auctioned

If you want to take a little trip down memory and-or history lane, check out Bill Clinton puffing away on his saxophone during his 1993 inaugural ball above while various political potentates and musical faces jostle around on stage. Yes, it's profoundly weird. But it's also enough to make you wonder how American politics got so gruesomely cruel and embittered in the 30 years since then. Clinton also played "Night Train" that night along with saxophonist Clarence Clemons. And then of course, there's the incomparable Fleetwood Mac, who performed a bunch of songs during the ball — but most famously played the in-theme "Don't Stop," to which Clinton and family seemed delighted to hear, per a YouTube mini-documentary.

That entire historical moment is encapsulated in the saxophone Clinton wielded that night. As Page Six recounts, the sax was signed not only by all the members of Fleetwood Mac, but also by Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Michael Bolton, Goldie Hawn, and more. All in all, it's enough to make the reader wonder why it only went for $13,000 at auction. Page Six says that Guernsey's, the auctioneers in charge of the 2021 lot — which included whoppers like Eddie Van Halen's guitar, Buddy Holly's stage coat, and Billie Holiday's dress — expected to get at least $40,000 for Clinton's sax. Plus, the auction house expected bidding to start at $15,000. Live Auctioneers, however, shows that the first competing bid started at $10,000.

A well-loved piece of presidential history

As the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes, Bill Clinton had been a music lover his whole life and made first chair playing saxophone tenor for the Arkansas state band. He even considered a music career at one point before shifting gears towards politics. Following his 1993 inaugural ball he held on to his instrument and gifted it to the Kansas City's American Jazz Museum in 2007. At the time, Missouri Representative Emanuel Cleaver commented on accepting the saxophone, saying that Clinton would have loved to jam with the musicians who played at the nearby Mutual Musicians Foundation (per Deseret News). Alas, Clinton's saxophone would do.

By the time the saxophone made it to auction in 2021, Live Auctioneers showed that it came not just by itself, but with extra trimmings. Aside from a nice Lucite case and the aforementioned signatures, the instrument came with an original press pass and an invitation to the inaugural ball itself. There's even a little lanyard and badge-looking thing portraying Clinton's and Gore's faces. 

Clinton's love for the sax led to the L.A. Sax Company crafting their own limited edition red, white, and blue "Number One Bill Clinton" tenor saxophone line. The first of the line stayed on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2014 to 2016. Clinton called it "the most beautiful saxophone I have ever seen."