The '70s superstar reflects on an odd chapter in musical, royal and White House history

By Michelle Tauber
Updated March 19, 2016 11:55 AM
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Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Anwar Hussein

It may be the most infamous performance in White House history.

To celebrate the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, one of the most popular acts of the era – the Grammy-winning husband-and-wife duo Captain and Tennille – were invited to perform for President Ford, First Lady Betty Ford, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

But the performance didn’t go quite as planned.

Tenille, 75, who opens up for the first time about her 39-year marriage to Daryl “the Captain” Dragon in a new memoir and interview with PEOPLE, also shares the story about that fateful White House visit.

The couple opted to perform their camp classic, “Muskrat Love,” after the First Lady personally requested another suggestive song.

“We had two great hits, ‘Love Will Keep us Together’ and ‘The Way I Want to Touch You,’ ” she recalls. “I thought, ‘I probably can’t do ‘The Way I Want to Touch You.’ It might be a little too intimate for the White House.’ But then when Mrs. Ford came in and said, ‘Are you going to do ‘The Way I Want to Touch You?’

“I said, ‘We weren’t planning to.’ She said, ‘Oh you must! It’s Gerry and my favorite song.’ I went, ‘Okay, we’ll do that.’ Then I said to Daryl, ‘We really should do ‘Muskrat Love,’ too.’ It was a huge hit and I thought everyone would get a kick out of it. I thought they seemed like a fun group!”

But with their synthesizer – which Daryl uses in the song to recreate the sound of love-making muskrats – speakers and keyboard set up in the East Room, the volume was high – and not everyone was pleased.

Kissinger in particular seemed miserable throughout the performance, says Tennille (she good-naturedly dedicated the song to him for years after), while the Queen simply nodded off.

Mrs. Ford, on the other hand, smiled, and Tennille says Prince Philip, shook her hand afterward and “was so lovely.”

Years later, Tennille recalls that she and Dragon would occasionally cross paths with the former President and First Lady in California.

“Mrs. Ford would say, ‘Gerry you remember Toni and Daryl! They performed at the White House.’ And the President said, ‘Yes, you did the song about the mice.’ We said, ‘Mr. President, it was muskrats!’ “