Full Text Political Transcripts December 4, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception

Source: WH, 12-4-16

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Everybody please have a seat.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Well, good evening, everybody.  On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House.  Over the past eight years, this has always been one of our favorite nights.  And this year, I was especially looking forward to seeing how Joe Walsh cleans up — pretty good.  (Laughter.)

I want to begin by once again thanking everybody who makes this wonderful evening possible, including David Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center Trustees — I’m getting a big echo back there — and the Kennedy Center President, Deborah Rutter.  Give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

We have some outstanding members of Congress here tonight.  And we are honored also to have Vicki Kennedy and three of President Kennedy’s grandchildren with us here -– Rose, Tatiana, and Jack.  (Applause.)

So the arts have always been part of life at the White House, because the arts are always central to American life.  And that’s why, over the past eight years, Michelle and I have invited some of the best writers and musicians, actors, dancers to share their gifts with the American people, and to help tell the story of who we are, and to inspire what’s best in all of us.  Along the way, we’ve enjoyed some unbelievable performances -– this is one of the perks of the job that I will miss.

Thanks to Michelle’s efforts, we’ve brought the arts to more young people -– from hosting workshops where they learn firsthand from accomplished artists, to bringing “Hamilton” to students who wouldn’t normally get a ticket to Broadway.  And on behalf of all of us, I want to say thanks to my wife for having done simply — (applause) — yes.  (Applause.)  And she’s always looked really good doing it.  (Laughter.)  She does.  (Laughter.)

This is part of how we’ve tried to honor the legacy of President and Mrs. Kennedy.  They understood just how vital art is to our democracy — that we need song and cinema and paintings and performance to help us challenge our assumptions, to question the way things are, and maybe inspire us to think about how things might be.  The arts help us celebrate our triumphs, but also holds up a mirror to our flaws.  And all of that deepens our understanding of the human condition.  It helps us to see ourselves in each other.  It helps to bind us together as a people.

As President Kennedy once said, “In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation.”  Tonight, we honor five amazing artists who have dedicated their lives to telling their truth, and helping us to see our own.

At eight years old, Mavis Staples climbed onto a chair in church, leaned into the microphone, raised her eyes upwards and belted out the gospel.  When people heard that deep, old soul coming out of that little girl, they wept — which, understandably, concerned her.  (Laughter.)  But her mother told her, “Mavis, they’re happy.  Your singing makes them cry happy tears.”

It was those early appearances on the South Side of Chicago -– South Side!  — (laughter and applause) — with Mavis, her siblings, their father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples that launched the legendary Staple Singers.  Theirs was gospel with just a touch of country, a twist of the blues, little bit of funk.  There was a little bit of sin with the salvation.  (Laughter.)  And driven by Pops’ reverbed guitar, Mavis’ powerhouse vocals and the harmonies that only family can make, the Staple Singers broke new ground with songs like “Uncloudy Day.”  They had some truths to tell.  Inspired by Dr. King, Pops would tell his kids, “If he can preach it, we can sing it.”  And so they wrote anthems like “Freedom Highway,” and “When Will We Be Paid” — which became the soundtrack of the Civil Rights movement.

As a solo artist, Mavis has done it all and worked with just about everybody from Bob Dylan to Prince to Jeff Tweedy.  On albums like “We’ll Never Turn Back,” and “One True Vine,” she still is singing for justice and equality, and influencing a new generation of musicians and fans.  And each soulful note — even in heartbreak and even in despair -– is grounded in faith, and in hope, and the belief that there are better days yet to come.  “These aren’t just songs I’m singing to be moving my lips,” she says.  “I mean this.”  And we mean it too.  Six decades on, nobody makes us feel “the weight” like Mavis Staples.  Give her a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

Al Pacino calls the theater his “flashlight.”  It’s how he finds himself, where he sees truth.  And since Al first hit Broadway in 1969, his singular talent has been the gold standard for acting.

A great playwright once compared the way Al inhabits his characters to the way Louis Armstrong played jazz.  One director said that while “some actors play characters, Al Pacino becomes them.”  And we’ve all seen it.  In the span of five years — you think about it — he became Serpico, became Sonny Wortzik, twice became Michael Corleone for, let’s face it, what have got to be the two best movies of all time — (laughter) — became Tony Montana on screen, then became the owner of a couple of Tonys on stage.  And he’s always been this way.

At 13, Al committed so profoundly to a role in the school play that when his character was supposed to get sick on stage, Al actually got sick on stage.  (Laughter.)  I’m not sure how audiences felt about that.  (Laughter.)  Later, when he played Richard III and Jackie Kennedy visited him backstage, the actor playing the self-absorbed king didn’t even stand up to greet actual American royalty, which he says he still regrets.  (Laughter.)

Through it all, Al has always cared more for his “flashlight” than the spotlight.  He says he’s still getting used to the idea of being an icon.  But his gift, for all the inspiration and intensity that he brings to his roles, is that he lets us into what his characters are feeling.  And for that, we are extraordinarily grateful.  Al Pacino.  (Applause.)

In the late sixties, James Taylor got the chance to audition in front of Paul McCartney and George Harrison.  Ringo, I don’t know if you were there — but this is a true story.  (Laughter.)  “I was as nervous as a Chihuahua on methamphetamines” — (laughter) — is what James Taylor says.  Which is exactly the kind of metaphor that makes him such a brilliant songwriter.  (Laughter.)

But if James has a defining gift, it is empathy.  It’s why he’s been such a great friend to and Michelle and myself.  We’re so grateful to him and Kim for their friendship over the years. It’s why everybody from Carole King to Garth Brooks to Taylor Swift collaborates with him.  It’s what makes him among the most prolific and admired musicians of our time.  In fact, James recently went through all his songs and kept coming across the same stories — songs about fathers and traffic jams; love songs, recovery songs.  I really love this phrase:  “Hymns for agnostics.”  (Laughter.)  He says that in making music, “There’s the idea of comforting yourself.  There’s also the idea of taking something that’s untenable and internal and communicating it.”  And that’s why it feels like James is singing only to you when he sings.  It feels like he’s singing about your life.  The stories he tells and retells dwell on our most enduring and shared experiences.  “Carolina on My Mind” is about where you grew up, even if you didn’t grow up in Carolina.  “Mean Old Man” is probably somebody you know.  “Angels of Fenway” — well, actually, that’s just about the Red Sox.  So — (laughter) — if you’re a White Sox fan you don’t love that song, but it’s okay.  (Applause.)

James is the consummate truth-teller about a life that can leave us with more unresolved questions than satisfying answers, but holds so much beauty that you don’t mind.  And from his honesty about his own struggles with substance abuse to his decades of progressive activism, James Taylor has inspired people all over the world and helped America live up to our highest ideals.  Thank you, James Taylor.  (Applause.)

Without a preschool rivalry, we might not be honoring Martha Argerich.  The story goes that when Martha was two years old, a little boy taunted her, saying, “I bet you can’t play the piano!”  (Laughter.)  So she sat down at the keys, remembered a piece her teacher had played, and played it flawlessly.  By eight years old, she had made her concert debut.  By the time she was a teenager, she left her native Argentina to study in Vienna and won two major international competitions, launching one of the most storied and influential careers in classical music.  That little boy lost his bet.

Martha combines unparalleled technical prowess with passion and glittering musicianship.  From Bach to Schumann, she doesn’t just play the piano, she possesses it.  Martha can charge through a passage with astonishing power and speed and accuracy, and, in the same performance, uncover the delicate beauty in each note.  As a critic once wrote, “She is an unaffected interpreter whose native language is music.”

But what truly sets her apart and has cemented her place as one of the greatest pianists in modern history is her dogged commitment to her craft.  In an age of often superficial connections, where people too often seek fame and recognition, Martha has been guided by one passion, and that is fidelity to the music.  She can only be herself.  And that is the truest mark of an artist.  And the result is timeless, transcendent music for which we thank Martha Argerich.  (Applause.)

And finally, there have been some interesting things said about this next group, including being called “one of rock’s most contentiously dysfunctional families.”  (Laughter.)  So, yeah, it was unlikely that they’d ever get back together and that they called their reunion tour “Hell Freezes Over.”  (Laughter.)  I love that.  But here’s the thing — when you listen to the Eagles, you hear the exact opposite story, and that is perfect harmony.

You hear it in the crisp, overpowering a capella chords of “Seven Bridges Road”; dueling guitar solos in “Hotel California”; complex, funky riffs opening “Life in the Fast Lane.”  It’s the sound not just of a California band, but one of America’s signature bands — a supergroup whose greatest hits sold more copies in the United States than any other record in the 20th century.  And the 20th Century had some pretty good music.  (Laughter.)

So, here tonight, we have three of the Eagles:  Don Henley, the meticulous, introspective songwriter with an unmistakable voice that soars above his drum set.  Timothy Schmit, the bass player and topline of many of those harmonies.  And Joe Walsh, who’s as rowdy with a guitar lick as I’m told he once was in a hotel room.  (Laughter.)  Twice.  (Laughter.)  This is the White House, though.  (Laughter.)  And Michelle and I are about to leave.  As I’ve said before, we want to get our security deposit back.  (Laughter and applause.)

But, of course, the Eagles are also the one and only Glenn Frey.  And we all wish Glenn was still here with us.  We are deeply honored to be joined by his beautiful wife, Cindy, and their gorgeous children.  Because the truth is that these awards aren’t just about this reception or even the show we have this evening, which will be spectacular.  The Kennedy Center Honors are about folks who spent their lives calling on us to think a little harder, and feel a little deeper, and express ourselves a little more bravely, and maybe “take it easy” once in a while.  And that is Glenn Frey — the driving force behind a band that owned a decade, and did not stop there.  We are all familiar with his legacy.  And the music of the Eagles will always be woven into the fabric of our nation.

So we are extraordinarily honored to be able to give thanks for the Eagles.  And what’s true for them is true for all of tonight’s honorees:  remarkable individuals who have created the soundtrack to our own lives — on road trips, in jukebox diners; folks who have mesmerized us on a Saturday night out at the movies or at a concert hall.

Mavis Staples.  Al Pacino.  James Taylor.  Martha Argerich The Eagles.  Their legacies are measured not just in works of art, but the lives they’ve touched, and creating a stronger and more beautiful America.  They’re artists who have served our nation by serving their truth.  And we’re all better off for it.

So before we transport ourselves to what I’m sure will be a spectacular evening, please join me in saluting our extraordinary 2016 Kennedy Center Honorees.  (Applause.)

 

END                  5:44 P.M. EST

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Full Text Obama Presidency April 21, 2014: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Remarks at the 2014 White House Easter Egg Roll

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

The 2014 White House Easter Egg Roll

Remarks by the President and the First Lady at the Easter Egg Roll

Source:  WH, 4-21-14

Watch the Video

South Lawn

10:34 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, hello everybody.  Is everybody having fun?  (Applause.)  Happy Easter.  This is the biggest event that we have at the White House all year long and it is our most fun event, because we have a chance to see families from all across the country coming through here.  My main and only job, other than officiating over the roll at some point, is to introduce, alongside the Easter Bunny, the person who makes this all possible — we love her dearly — my wife, the First Lady, Michelle Obama.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, honey. Hey, everybody.  Happy Easter Egg Roll Day.  Isn’t this exciting?  It is so wonderful to have so many of you here today.  We are celebrating the 136th Easter Egg Roll.  The theme of this year’s roll is “Hop Into Health, Swing Into Shape.”  Yes, I love it.

And it’s going to be a great day.  We have beautiful weather, because the Easter Egg Roll is blessed.  And we’re going to have fun stuff going on.  We’ve got the Egg Roll.  We’ve got some storytelling.  We’ve got entertainment.  We’ve got wonderful athletes and performers like Cam and so many others.  We’ve got obstacle courses and yoga and face painting and egg hunts.  It’s just going to be terrific.  As Barack said, we love this event.  This is the largest event that we do here on the South Lawn.  We’re going to have more than 30,000 people on the lawn today.

And we’re just thrilled that this theme is focusing on one issue that is near and dear to my heart, and it’s making sure that our young people are active and healthy.  So while you’re here, parents, look around.  You’re going to learn how to make healthy snacks that the kids will actually eat.  I’m going to be over there on the chef’s stage doing some demonstrations.

And I want to make sure that kids know that healthy eating and being active can be fun, because what today is about is having a whole lot of fun.  And I hope you all do that, because we want our kids to be the healthiest and the strongest they can be, so they can do well in school and live up to all of their God-given potential.  Isn’t that right, parents?  That’s what we want for you all.  (Applause.)

And we want to thank the Easter Bunny, as always, for being here.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the hundreds of volunteers who make today possible.  (Applause.)  Thank you to our volunteers who have been out here setting up the South Lawn, who are going to make sure you guys get through these activities and have a great time.

So you all just enjoy.  That’s all you have to do from this point on, is have fun.  And we’ll be down there to participate in the Egg Roll.  The President is going to read.  I’m going to read a little bit.  So we’ll meet you down on the South Lawn, okay?

All right.  Have a great time.  Bye-bye.  (Applause.)

END
10:39 A.M.

Full Text Obama Presidency March 6, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Performance at the White House: Women of Soul

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Performance at the White House: Women of Soul

Source: WH, 3-6-14

7:34 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Welcome to the White House for the latest in our series celebrating the music that has shaped our American story.  And as someone who always shares this house with brilliant, creative, talented, somewhat stubborn women –(laughter) — I think Women’s History Month is the perfect time to honor a few more:  the Women of Soul.  (Applause.)

This is a really good lineup.  And I want to thank our performers for this evening.  They are fantastic.  We’ve got Tessanne Chin here.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Melissa Etheridge.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Aretha Franklin.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Ariana Grande.  (Applause.)  Ms. Patti LaBelle.  (Applause.) Janelle Monae.  (Applause.)  And Ms. Jill Scott.  (Applause.)  That is a lineup.  I can’t wait.  (Laughter.)

Finally, I want to make a quick public service announcement.  When Aretha Franklin first walked into Fame Studio in 1967, most of the other musicians had never heard her sing live before.  When they did, one of them said, “The floors rumbled and the walls shook.  My brain shook.  It was magic.”  So my advice to everyone tonight is simple:  Hang on.  (Laughter.)  The Queen of Soul is in the building.  If she blows your mind, it will be okay.  (Laughter.)

But that’s what soul music does.  It makes us move and it makes us feel.  To quote Jill Scott, “Soul music is about reaching and touching people on a human level.”

For many of the performers here tonight, it all began on Sunday morning.  Growing up in Detroit, Aretha sang at her father’s church, and recorded her first album at that church when she was just 14 years old.  Patti LaBelle was painfully shy — I cannot believe that, but this is what I’ve been told –(laughter) — until she sang a solo in front of the congregation, and got a standing ovation.  That’s when she realized she could do something special.

Eventually, artists like Aretha and Patti began mixing gospel with R&B, and rock and pop.  Instead of singing about love and pain, forgiveness and acceptance to a church audience, they sang about them to the world.  And the world had never heard anything like it.

When Aretha first told us what “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” meant to her, she had no idea it would become a rallying cry for African Americans, and women, and then everyone who felt marginalized because of what they looked like or who they loved.  They wanted some respect.  Later, when somebody asked her why it had such an impact, she said, “I guess everybody just wants a little respect.”  (Laughter.)

Today, they still do.  Aretha had already won 11 Grammys by the time Janelle Monae was born.  But as a teenager struggling to make it in New York, Janelle worked as a maid, singing for the other women as they cleaned houses together.  And she says the experience inspired her to write music for people like them — “because they need it the most.”

And when Melissa Etheridge was growing up, she fell in love with artists who had something to say.  She remembers thinking, “I can’t wait until I get up there and sing the truth.”

And ultimately, that’s what soul is all about — telling some truth.  And tonight, we’re in for a healthy dose of truth — (laughter) — from some of the finest voices there are.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce a true American treasure, the one and only Miss Patti LaBelle.  (Applause.)

END

7:39 P.M. EST

Political Musings February 21, 2014: Michelle Obama celebrates Let’s Move’s fourth anniversary on Jimmy Fallon

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

First Lady Michelle Obama embarked on a media tour to celebrate the fourth anniversary of her health, nutrition, and exercise movement for America’s youth, Let’s Move on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 visiting the New Museum in…READ MORE

Political Musings February 3, 2014: Michelle Obama talks Scandal, Valentine’s Day, health care with Ryan Seacrest

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

While President Barack Obama embarked on his two-day economic opportunity policy tour, First Lady Michelle Obama went on her own official trip fundraising in California from Wednesday, Jan. 29 to Friday, January 31, 2014. While on the trip to…Continue

Political Musings January 29, 2014: State Dept responds to White House petition to deport Justin Bieber, Obama next?

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

State Dept responds to White House petition to deport Justin Bieber, Obama next?

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Even though the White House and President Barack Obama are busy selling the President economic opportunity program on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 after delivering the State of the Union Address on Tuesday evening, they now they will have to deal…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 8, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at 2013 Kennedy Center Honors Reception

Remarks by the President at 2013 Kennedy Center Honors Reception

Source: WH, 12-8-13

 

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East Room

5:20 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, good evening, everyone.  On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House.  This is truly one of our favorite nights of the year, and not just because of everyone who visits the White House — this group also usually wins “best dressed” award.  (Laughter.)  All of you look spectacular.  I am a little disappointed that Carlos Santana wore one of his more conservative shirts this evening.  (Laughter.)  Back in the day, you could see those things from space.  (Laughter.)

I want to start by thanking everyone who dedicates themselves to making the Kennedy Center such a wonderful place for the American people to experience the arts — David Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center trustees, and of course, Michael Kaiser, who will conclude 13 years of tremendous service as the president of the Kennedy Center next year.  (Applause.)  So on behalf of Michelle and myself, we want to all thank Michael so much for the extraordinary work that he has done.

As always, this celebration wouldn’t be what it is without the enthusiasm of the co-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, George Stevens.  George.  (Applause.)  And his son, Michael.  And together, for years they’ve put on this event to honor the artists whose brilliance has touched our lives.

President Kennedy once said of such creative genius that, “The highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.”  Now, that’s easy to say when — as they do for these artists — the chips usually fall in your favor, whether at Woodstock or the Oscars or elite venues all over the world.

But the fact is that the diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honor today haven’t just proven themselves to be the best of the best.  Despite all their success, all their fame, they’ve remained true to themselves — and inspired the rest of us to do the same.

Growing up in Harlem, Martina Arroyo’s parents told her she could be and do anything.  That was until she said that she wanted to be an opera singer.  (Laughter.)  Her father — perhaps not fully appreciating the versatility required of an opera singer — said he didn’t want his daughter to be like a can-can girl.  (Laughter.)  In her neighborhood back then, opera was not the obvious career path.  And there weren’t a lot of opera singers who looked like her that she could look up to.

But Martina had a dream she couldn’t shake, so she auditioned relentlessly and jumped at any role she could get.  Along the way, she earned money by teaching and working as a social worker in New York City.  And when she got a call from the Metropolitan Opera asking her to fill in the lead for “Aida,” she was sure it was just a friend pulling her leg.  It wasn’t until they called back that she realized the request was real, and she just about fell over in shock.  But in that breakout role she won fans around the world, beloved for her tremendous voice and unparalleled grace.

Martina has sung the great roles:  Mozart’s Donna Anna, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, and, of course, Aida.  She’s played the world’s stages, from Cincinnati to Paris to Israel.  She’s broken through barriers, broadening our notion of what magnificent artists look like and where they come from.

And along the way, she’s helped people of all ages, all over the world, discover the art form that she loves so deeply.  For a lot of folks, it was Martina Arroyo who helped them see and hear and love the beauty and power of opera.  And with her charitable foundation, she is nurturing the next generation of performers — smart, talented, driven, and joyous, just like her.  For moving us with the power of her voice and empowering others to share theirs too, we honor Martina Arroyo.  (Applause.)

Herbie Hancock played his first concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was 11 years old.  Two years later, he heard a classmate play jazz piano at a variety show and thought, “That’s my instrument, and he can do that?  Why can’t I?”  It turned out he could.  (Laughter.)

By 23, Herbie was playing with Miles Davis in New York and on his way to becoming a jazz legend.  And he didn’t stop there.  In the seventies, he put his electrical engineering studies to work and helped create electronic music.  In the eighties, his hit “Rockit” became an anthem for a fledging new genre called hip-hop.  At one recent show, he played alongside an iMac and five iPads.  (Laughter.)  And a few years ago, he became the first jazz artist in 43 years to win a Grammy for best album.

But what makes Herbie so special isn’t just how he approaches music; it’s how he approaches life.  He tours the world as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.  He’s done so many benefit concerts that Joni Mitchell once gave him a watch inscribed with the words:  “He played real good for free.”  (Laughter.)  And we know this because he’s played here for free a lot.  (Laughter and applause.)  We work Herbie, I’m telling you.  (Laughter.)

But we just love the man.  Michelle and I love this man, not just because he’s from Chicago.  Not just because he and I had the same hairdo in the 1970s.  (Laughter.)  Not just because he’s got that spooky Dorian Gray doesn’t-get-older thing going on.  (Laughter.)  It is his spirit, it is his energy — which is relentless and challenging, and he’s always pushing boundaries.  Herbie once said of his outlook, “We’re going to see some unbelievable changes.  And I would rather be on the side of pushing for that than waiting for somebody else to do it.”

Well, Herbie, we are glad that you didn’t wait for somebody else to do what you’ve done, because nobody else could.  For always pushing us forward, we honor Herbie Hancock.  (Applause.)
When a 22-year-old Carlos Santana took the stage at Woodstock, few people outside his hometown of San Francisco knew who he was.  And the feeling was mutual.  Carlos was in such a — shall we say — altered state of mind that he remembers almost nothing about the other performers.  (Laughter and applause.)  He thought the neck of his guitar was an electric snake.  (Laughter.)

But that did not stop Carlos and his band from whipping the crowd into a such frenzy with a mind-blowing mix of blues, and jazz, and R&B, and Latin music.  They’d never heard anything like it.  And almost overnight, Carlos Santana became a star.

It was a pretty steep climb for a young man who grew up in Mexico, playing the violin for tourists, charging fifty cents a song.  But as a teenager, Carlos fell in love with the guitar.  He developed a distinctive sound that has drawn admirers from Bob Dylan to Herbie Hancock.  And he gave voice to a Latino community that had too often been invisible to too many Americans.  “You can cuss or you can pray with the guitar,” Carlos says.  He found a way to do both.  (Laughter.)

And today, with 10 Grammys under his belt, Carlos is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time.  And he’s still attracting new fans.  Back in 2000, his album “Supernatural” beat out Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to get to the Number 1 on the charts.  Kids were listening to Carlos who hadn’t even heard of Woodstock.

But despite all his success, Carlos says he still feels blessed to “be able to play a piece of wood with strings and touch people’s hearts.”  So for blessing all of us with his music, we honor Carlos Santana.  (Applause.)

Now, when you first become President, one of the questions that people ask you is, what’s really going on in Area 51?  (Laughter.)  When I wanted to know, I’d call Shirley MacLaine.  (Laughter.)  I think I just became the first President to ever publicly mention Area 51.  How’s that, Shirley?  (Laughter and applause.)

We love Shirley MacLaine.  She’s unconventional, and that makes her incomparable — with nearly 60 years of reign as one of the most celebrated stars in movie history to prove it.  “There are some performers that are indelible,” said one fan about Shirley.  “We fall early and we fall hard for them and we follow them for the rest of their lives.”  Now, that fan just happens to be a legend in her own right, who we honored here two years ago — Meryl Streep.  But Meryl is not the only one who fell hard.

Shirley has been drawing fans, including me, since — well, not since she first lit up the big screen — because in 1955 she was in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry,” but she’s still spitting fire with the same old spunk, most recently playing the American grandma in “Downton Abbey,” which Michelle I think got some early previews for.  (Laughter.)  Along the way, Shirley has racked up just about every Hollywood award that is out there.  That’s why her nickname, “Powerhouse,” is so fitting.  The truth is Shirley earned that nickname for hitting the most home runs on the boys’ baseball team when she was a kid.  But I’d say that it still works pretty well to describe her today.

And that’s because Shirley MacLaine’s career isn’t defined by a list of film roles and musical performances.  Through raucous comedies, and stirring dramas, and spirited musicals, Shirley has been fearless and she’s been honest, and she’s tackled complicated characters, and she’s revealed a grittier, deeper truth in each one of those characters — giving every audience the experience of cinema at its best.  It’s a motto she has lived by:  “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb.  That’s where all the fruit is.”  For her risk-taking, for her theatrical brilliance, for her limitless capacity for wonder, we honor this American powerhouse — Shirley MacLaine.  (Applause.)

And finally, in a world full of brilliant musicians, there’s only one Piano Man.  The son of a Jewish father who left Germany for America to escape the Nazis, Billy Joel started piano lessons as a boy growing up on Long Island.  His father was a classical pianist, so that was Billy’s training too — until the night he and millions of Americans watched The Beatles play the Ed Sullivan Show.  Most people thought, “I want to hear more music like that.”  But Billy thought, “I want to make my own music like that.”  And from then on, it was all rock and roll to him.

With lyrics that speak of love and class and failure and success, angry young men and the joy of becoming a father, he’s become one of the most successful musicians in history, selling more than 150 million records.

Above all, Billy Joel sings about America:  About the workers living in Allentown after the factories closed down.  About soldiers home from the war, forever changed, bidding “Goodnight Saigon.”  Commercial fishermen struggling to make a living in the waters off of Long Island, sailing the Downeaster Alexa.  The sights and sounds of that city like no other, which can put anyone in a “New York State of Mind.”  And of course, the rag-tag bunch of regulars at the bar where he started out, shouting at him again and again to “sing us a song.”

Billy Joel probably would have been a songwriter no matter where he was born.  But we are certainly lucky that he ended up here.  And the hardworking folks he’s met and the music that he’s heard across our nation come through in every note and every lyric that he’s written.  For an artist whose songs are sung around the world, but which are thoroughly, wonderfully American, we honor Billy Joel.  (Applause.)

So, Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Shirley MacLaine,  Billy Joel — each of our brilliant honorees has given us something unique and enriched us beyond measure, as individuals and as a nation.  Together they bring us closer to President Kennedy’s vision of the arts as a great humanizing and truth-telling experience.

Their triumphs have lifted our spirits and lifted our nation and left us a better and richer place.  And for that we will always be grateful.   So we thank you all.

God bless you, and please join me in saluting one more time our remarkable 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees.  (Applause.)

END
5:36 P.M. EST

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