Of Pianos and Presidents
How Harry Truman Moore met the Beatles, became friends with Bill Clinton, and played some of the most famous pianos in the world
Published in 2018 Mid-South Super Lawyers magazine on November 8, 2018
With a name like Harry Truman Moore, it was almost inevitable he would become a lifelong Democrat.
What was less inevitable? All the rest.
“I never thought, growing up in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, that I would have met the Beatles, had tea with the queen, and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom,” says Moore, who goes by “H.T.,” sports bow ties and plays in a bluegrass band. He passed the bar in 1975 and eventually became partner in one of Arkansas’ oldest law firms, now Goodwin Moore, which began in 1889 and which Moore runs from a historic bank building in downtown Paragould.
His current focus is family law and ADR. Moore chose family law because no one at his firm really wanted to do it, but he soon found he had a knack for it. He’s also done extensive work on regional water distribution and agricultural drainage in northeast Arkansas. “That’s helped a lot of people have good, clean drinking water,” he says.
Moore’s first brush with fame came at the tender age of 4. When President Truman was on a tour of Arkansas in 1952, he was introduced to the toddler named after him. Local newspapers ate it up. “I never had so much attention paid to me in my young life,” Moore says with a chuckle.
Another run-in with history occurred in September 1964. At age 17, Moore was working as a student journalist, covering news for the tiny Walnut Ridge Times Dispatch. At the same time, the Beatles were wrapping up their legendary first tour of America, and the Fab Four wanted to visit a dude ranch in Alton, Missouri. Walnut Ridge had the largest airport in the region, so that’s where they landed, and Moore was sent to cover the event. He never got to interview them, but he was within 10 feet of the band as they rushed to their next destination.
“That bylined story has been told more and more over the years,” he says. “It’s become part of the Beatles folklore. USA Today listed Walnut Ridge as one of the 10 top places where the Beatles had ever visited during their career.” Beatles at the Ridge is now an annual festival.
The summer of 1964 was auspicious for Moore for another reason. He became involved in Boys State, a civic youth organization, where Mack McLarty introduced him to an ambitious fellow student from Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Bill Clinton.
More than a friendship: In 1974, while Moore was in law school and after working for U.S. Rep. Bill Alexander, Clinton told him over a hamburger that he was running for the 3rd District House seat in Fayetteville. Moore jumped in to assist with the campaign and was responsible for a number of famous early photos. “The one for his original campaign poster,” he says, “and that one with the bushy hair.”
While that effort was unsuccessful, Clinton, of course, didn’t stop. In 1976, he ran for attorney general, and Moore helped from northeast Arkansas. “He’s one of the brightest people you’ve ever seen,” Moore says. “He was also the best retail politician I’ve ever seen. Everybody thought that Dale Bumpers was good—and Bumpers was—but Clinton had that ability to relate to people from all walks of life.”
As Moore built his practice, his support for Bill and Hillary continued—as a county coordinator in Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial campaigns, and later as a member of the 1992 presidential campaign, which took Moore across the country.
“[Clinton] is such a great guy. He’s always one of these people who have stayed in touch, regardless of whether he was in the governorship or the White House or whatever else—and he still does.” He’s also observant. For a recent reunion in Little Rock, Moore had taken the initiative to lose a little weight, and Clinton pulled him aside, concerned, and asked if he was ill. “He would notice things like that,” Moore says.
These days, being a Democrat in Arkansas can be a lonely endeavor. “It’s a little bit different being on the outside looking in,” Moore admits. “I wonder at times how good it was for Arkansas to have been a one-party state when it was nothing but Democrats.” He continues work on legal and judicial reforms statewide, volunteers for the Arkansas Bar Association and served on the American Bar Association’s Board of Governors. Moore was also involved in the campaign to make state judicial elections nonpartisan 18 years ago, and he now works to limit dark money contributions to judicial campaigns.
An accomplished musician, Moore regularly joins a bluegrass combo organized by the First Methodist Church, and plays at the local Rotary Club. Over the years, thanks in part to his travels, he’s also had the good fortune to play an assortment of famous pianos, including the grand piano in the White House. During the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Moore was on a tour of Warner Brothers’ Studios when they came upon a small, 58-key piano that was forever immortalized by Dooley Wilson in Casablanca.
“They said, ‘Please don’t touch this,’” he recalls. But it was a private tour and Moore pulled out a little Southern charm. “I asked if I could play just a couple chords. That was a real treat.”
Moore’s favorite pianos (and he’s played ’em all)
> Cole Porter’s 1907 Steinway at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City
> the one at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, a haunt of Ernest Hemingway’s
> the grand piano at the White House, presented by Theodore Steinway to FDR
> Mr. Rogers’ Steinway at the Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe, Pennsylvania
> the one at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, that dates from the time of Lincoln
> the 58-key upright played by Dooley Wilson in Casablanca