Harvard releases earliest known voice recording of JFK

A 1938 photo shows Joseph P. Kennedy, then-ambassador to Great Britain, and his son, John F. Kennedy.
A 1938 photo shows Joseph P. Kennedy, then-ambassador to Great Britain, and his son, John F. Kennedy.(Associated Press/File)

Even as a 20-year-old student, he had that presidential flair — and used the “uhs” and “erms” he was known for uttering during his time in office.

Archivists from Harvard University have released what they say is the earliest known voice recording of the late president John F. Kennedy, a nearly two-minute clip of the future politician as a young man that was made while he studied at the renowned Cambridge institution.

The speech was recorded on an aluminum phonograph disc during a public speaking course Kennedy was enrolled in at Harvard in 1937, according to the Harvard Gazette, the university’s official publication. The audio was posted online this week.


“As far as we know, this is the earliest known recording of his voice in a research collection,” archivist Megan Sniffin-Marinoff told the Gazette.

On the recording, Kennedy, who was a sophomore at the time, can be heard talking about the controversial appointment of Hugo Black to the Supreme Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Kennedy’s familiar speaking pattern and Boston accent come through clearly on Harvard’s restored audio file,” the Gazette wrote. “And though an occasional pause punctuated by an ‘uh’ is scattered throughout his talk, a confident voice delivers his political message.”

The restored audio is part of a new exhibit, called “JFK’s Harvard/Harvard’s JFK,” at the Harvard University Archives.

The exhibit celebrates Kennedy’s deep roots at the school as the 100th anniversary of the president’s birthday approaches, on May 29.

“The objects in this exhibition, drawn from the collections of the Harvard University Archives, are presented as evidence of the important relationship between Kennedy and Harvard University,” according to a description of the exhibit. “Kennedy, as a young politician, was in some ways shaped by his experience at Harvard before World War II; in turn, the policies he pursued as President would have an influence on Harvard as well.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.