Full Text Obama Presidency December 2, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception — President and First Lady Michelle Obama Welcome 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees to the White House

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President and Mrs. Obama Welcome 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees to the White House

Source: WH, 12-3-12

President and Mrs. Obama attend the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, Dec. 2, 2012.  President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Dec. 2, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President and Mrs. Obama last night welcomed a late night television host, an actor, a ballerina, a blues guitarist, and a rock band to the White House for the annual reception saluting the Kennedy Center Honorees.

As he introduced David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman, Natalia Makarova, Buddy Guy, and the surviving members of Led Zeppelin to a crowd gathered in the East Room, the President described the honorees as “some extraordinary people who have no business being on the same stage together.”

Each year the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts celebrates individuals who have made a lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television — and the primary criterion in the selection process is excellence.

Prior to the event celebrating their achievement held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, the President took a moment to highlight their contributions to American culture, and the important role the arts play in our national identity:

So we’ve got Buddy Guy. We’ve got Dustin Hoffman. We’ve got David Letterman, Natalia Makarova, Led Zeppelin each of us can remember a moment when the people on this stage touched our lives. Maybe they didn’t lead us to become performers ourselves. But maybe they inspired us to see things in a new way, to hear things differently, to discover something within us or to appreciate how much beauty there is in the world.

It’s that unique power that makes the arts so important. We may not always think about the importance of music or dance or laughter to the life of this nation, but who would want to imagine America without it? That’s why we celebrate artists like the ones here tonight. And that’s why, in this season of joy and thanksgiving, they have earned our deepest appreciation.

 

President Obama delivers remarks during the Kennedy Center Honors Reception, Dec. 2, 2012.President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the Kennedy Center Honors Reception in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2012. Honorees seated onstage from left: three members of the British rock group Led Zeppelin: singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, and keyboardist and bassist John Paul Jones; ballerina Natalia Makarova, television comedian David Letterman; actor Dustin Hoffman; and Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Watch the President’s full remarks at the White House reception

Remarks by the President at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception

Source: WH, 12-2-12 

East Room

5:31 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody, please have a seat.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Well, good evening, everybody.  You all look lovely.  (Laughter.)  Welcome to the White House on a night when I am nowhere close to being the main attraction.

Thank you, David Rubenstein, Michael Kaiser and the Kennedy Center trustees, and everyone who has worked so hard to uphold President Kennedy’s commitment to supporting the arts.  I also want to recognize another of President Kennedy’s amazing legacies, and that is his wonderful daughter Caroline, who is here tonight.  (Applause.)

None of this would be possible without the co-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, George Stevens — where is George, there he is — (applause) — and his son Michael — where did Michael go, there he is — (applause) — who have produced the Kennedy Center Honors for 35 years now.

Tonight, we continue a tradition here at the White House by honoring some extraordinary people who have no business being on the same stage together.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got Buddy Guy sitting next to Dustin Hoffman.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got Dave Letterman alongside one of the greatest ballerinas of all time.  I don’t think Dave dances.  (Laughter.)  All three living members of Led Zeppelin in one place — (applause) — so this is a remarkable evening.

And it speaks to something that has always made this country great — the idea that here in America, more than any other place on Earth, we are free to follow our own passions, explore our own gifts, wherever they may lead us.  And people from all around the world come here to make sure that they too can provide us the incredible gifts that they have.

Tonight’s honorees didn’t just take up their crafts to make a living.  They did it because they couldn’t imagine living any other way.  That passion took each of them from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of their profession.  Tonight, in the People’s House, we have a chance to say thank you.

Growing up as the son of a sharecropper in Louisiana, Buddy Guy made his first guitar out of wires from a window screen — that worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitos were getting in.  (Laughter.)  But Buddy was hooked, and a few years later, he bought a one-way ticket to Chicago to find his heroes — Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.  Pretty soon he was broke, hungry and ready to head home.  And then, one night outside a blues club, a man pulled up and handed Buddy a salami sandwich and said, “I’m Mud,” and “you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”  And that was the start of something special.

Of course, success hasn’t changed the humble country boy who used to milk cows on a farm outside Baton Rouge.  Buddy tells a story about his son Greg wanting to learn to play the guitar like Prince.  Buddy told him he’d better learn some Jimi Hendrix first.  (Laughter.)  It was only after watching a TV special on Hendrix that Greg found out Jimi had borrowed some licks from his dad.  So Greg said, “I didn’t know you could play like that.”  And Buddy said, “You never asked.”  (Laughter.)

Today, Buddy is still going strong — one of the last guardians of the great American blues.  And on a personal note, I will never forget Buddy playing “Sweet Home Chicago” in this very room back in February and him, and a few others, forcing me to sing along — (laughing) — which was just okay.  (Laughter.)  There aren’t too many people who can get me to sing, but Buddy was one of them.  And so we are so glad that we can honor him tonight.  Congratulations, Buddy Guy.  (Applause.)

When “The Graduate” was originally written, the main character was supposed to be Robert Redford — a tall, blond track star.  And when Dustin Hoffman auditioned for the part, a crew member handed him a subway token on his way out, saying, “here, kid, you’re gonna need this.”  (Laughter.)

Dustin ended up getting the role and it launched one of the greatest movie careers of his generation, of any generation.  Most actors dream of being in maybe one film that becomes part of our cultural vocabulary.  Dustin churned out “Midnight Cowboy,” “Tootsie,” “Rain Man,” “Hook” — not bad for a guy who signed up for his first acting class after a friend told him, “nobody flunks acting, it’s like gym.”  (Laughter.)

Still, I imagine one secret to his success is his inability to see himself as anything but an underdog.  Even after “The Graduate” became a runaway success, Dustin says, “I really believed that was a fluke and I refused to believe I had arrived.  And in a way, I’ve been hanging on by my fingertips for the entire ride.

Well, Dustin, you’ll be glad to know that this award was not supposed to go to Robert Redford.  (Laughter.)  He’s already got one.  (Laughter.)  So tonight we honor Dustin Hoffman — an actor who has finally arrived.  He’s made it.  (Applause.)  He’s made it.  (Applause.)

If you ask David Letterman what’s it like to tape his show, he’ll say, “if it’s going well, it just lifts you.  If it’s not going well, it sinks you.  It’s exhilarating. It’s my favorite hour of the day.”  It’s unclear how Dave feels about this hour.  It’s different when you’re not the one with the mic, isn’t it, Dave?  (Laughter.)  You’re looking a little stressed, aren’t you?  (Laughter.)  I’d also point out it’s a lot warmer here than it is on Dave’s set.  (Laughter.)

But I’ve enjoyed my time in the Ed Sullivan Theater.  And earlier this year, Dave celebrated his 30th anniversary in late night television — the only person to reach that milestone besides Johnny Carson.  Now, Dave will be the first to tell you that he’s no Carson, that all his years on television have only made him appreciate even more how unique Johnny was.  But that’s a good thing, because if he were more like Johnny, he’d be less like Dave.

After all, it was Dave who got his start as an Indianapolis weatherman, once reporting that the city was being pelted by hail “the size of canned hams.”  (Laughter.)  It’s one of the highlights of his career.  (Laughter.)  It was Dave who strapped a camera to a monkey — (laughter) — worked a Taco Bell drive-thru, told Lady Gaga that when he was her age, he had a paper route.  (Laughter.)  It was Dave who came back on the air less than a week after 9/11 to show the world that New York was still standing.  (Applause.)

So tonight we honor David Letterman, who has always offered us an authentic piece of himself — sometimes cranky, often self-deprecating, always funny.  And those of you who have been on his show know he is also a true gentleman.  So thank you, Dave.  (Applause.)

When Natalia Makarova defected from the Soviet Union in 1970, she made headlines around the globe.  But back home, her name was excised from textbooks, her photos expunged from the walls of her school.  And for the next 18 years, her countrymen were forced to rely on underground channels to follow the rise of one of the most accomplished ballerinas in the world.

But no one can erase what takes hold of the heart.  And in 1989, when the Iron Curtain opened, the Russian people welcomed her back with open arms.  Over 2,000 people packed the Kirov Theater where she had trained as a young girl — another 20 people crammed in with the orchestra — all to watch a dancer who never thought she’d be back.  It was a fitting end to a career that began when 13-year-old Natalia, completely double-jointed and possessed of an incredible gift for musicality and movement, told her parents she did not want to be an engineer, thank you, she wanted to dance.

After hanging up her shoes, Natalia moved to Broadway, where she won a Tony Award.  And she remains as humble as ever — once saying, “I’m never proud of what I’ve done.  Sometimes, I’m not ashamed.”  So thank you, Natalia, for the understatement of the century.  (Laughter.)  And thank you for sharing your talents with all of us.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

I worked with the speechwriters — there is no smooth transition from ballet to Led Zeppelin.  (Laughter.)  We were trying to work the “Stairway To Heaven” metaphor and it didn’t work.  (Laughter.)

So when Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham burst onto the musical scene in the late 1960s, the world never saw it coming.  There was this singer with a mane like a lion and a voice like a banshee, a guitar prodigy who left people’s jaws on the floor, a versatile bassist who was equally at home on the keyboards, a drummer who played like his life depended on it.

And when the Brits initially kept their distance, Led Zeppelin grabbed America from the opening chord.  We were ready for what Jimmy called songs with “a lot of light and shade.”  It’s been said that a generation of young people survived teenage angst with a pair of headphones and a Zeppelin album and a generation of parents wondered what all that noise was about.  (Laughter.)

But even now, 32 years after John Bonham’s passing — and we all I think appreciate the fact — the Zeppelin legacy lives on.  The last time the band performed together in 2007 — perhaps the last time ever, but we don’t know — more than 20 million fans from around the world applied for tickets.  And what they saw was vintage Zeppelin.  No frills, no theatrics, just a few guys who can still make the ladies weak at the knees, huddled together, following the music.  (Laughter.)

Of course, these guys also redefined the rock and roll lifestyle.  We do not have video of this.  (Laughter.)  But there was some hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around.  So it’s fitting that we’re doing this in a room with windows that are about three inches thick — (laughter) — and Secret Service all around.  (Laughter.)  So, guys, just settle down.  (Laughter.)  These paintings are valuable.  (Laughter.)  They look very calm now though, don’t they?  (Laughter.)

It is a tribute to you guys.  And tonight we honor Led Zeppelin for making us all feel young, and for showing us that some guys who are not completely youthful can still rock.

So we’ve got Buddy Guy.  We’ve got Dustin Hoffman.  We’ve got David Letterman, Natalia Makarova, Led Zeppelin — (applause) — each of us can remember a moment when the people on this stage touched our lives.  Maybe they didn’t lead us to become performers ourselves.  But maybe they inspired us to see things in a new way, to hear things differently, to discover something within us or to appreciate how much beauty there is in the world.

It’s that unique power that makes the arts so important.  We may not always think about the importance of music or dance or laughter to the life of this nation, but who would want to imagine America without it?  That’s why we celebrate artists like the ones here tonight.  And that’s why, in this season of joy and thanksgiving, they have earned our deepest appreciation.

So congratulations again to tonight’s honorees.  Thank you all very much.  And I look forward to a spectacular evening.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END
5:44 P.M. EST

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White House Recap December 3-9, 2011: The Obama Presidency’s Weekly Recap — President Obama Advocates Payroll Tax Cut Extension & the Middle Class in Populist Economic Speech in Osawatomie, Kansas — Channels Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism

WHITE HOUSE RECAP

WHITE HOUSE RECAP: DECEMBER 3-9, 2011

This week, the President gave a major address on the defining issue of our time, restoring economic security to the middle class.

West Wing Week

Weekly Wrap Up: The Clock is Ticking

Source: WH, 12-9-11

Download Video: mp4 (205.5MB)

Tax Countdown The clock is ticking. On Monday, the President urged Congress to pass tax cuts for the middle class before they go home for the holidays. Immediately after the briefing, the White House launched a countdown clock on WhiteHouse.gov and in the press briefing room, to let people know exactly how much time is left before taxes go up for middle class families without congress. Later in the week, Senate Republicans blocked the tax cut extension as well as Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—a job that ensures consumer protection. In a press briefing, the President addressed that vote and Congress’ failure to extend the payroll tax cut. President Obama promised to explore all options and take nothing “off the table” in ensuring that the CFPB is able to fulfill its mission of protecting consumers.

Make or Break Moment More than 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt gave his historic New Nationalism speech in Osawatomie,Kansas, President Obama traveled  to this same small town to address the make-or-break moment for the middle class. Some in Washington argue that we should let the markets take care of everything — rolling back regulation and slashing taxes.Thankfully, President Obama said, we can choose a different path: “There’s another view about how we build a strong middle class in this country. It is a view that says in America we are greater together — when everyone engages in fair play and everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share.”

College Affordability Vice President Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, Florida to talk about college affordability in a town hall meeting. They spoke with parents and students about steps the administration has taken to reduce college costs and the need to keep college tuition low so more Americans have the opportunity to obtain a degree.  President Obama and Vice President Biden have focused on making college affordable for middle-class families since the day they took office.  Before making his speech, the Vice President made a surprise visit to Mayport in Jacksonville as sailors returned from overseas to be welcomed home by their families.

Canada Visit The President welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the White House Thursday to discuss the economy and make commitments to ease trade and travel between the two neighboring nations. The President also discussed Canada’s role in helping put Americans back to work. “Canada is key to achieving my goal of doubling American exports and putting people back to work and the important initiatives that we agreed to today will help us do just that.”

Kennedy Center Honors President Obama and the First Lady honored Meryl Streep, Neil Diamond, Sonny Rollins, Yo-Yo Ma and Barbara Cook for their lifelong contributions to the arts and thanked them for sharing their talents with the world.  The award winners were honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.

Full Text December 4, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Speech Welcoming the 2011 Kennedy Center Honorees to the White House

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Welcomes 2011 Kennedy Center Honorees to the White House

Source: WH, 12-5-11
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors celebrating honorees Neil Diamond, Meryl Streep, Sonny Rollins, Yo-Yo Ma and Barbara Cook at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. (by Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama and the First Lady last night welcomed the 2011 Kennedy Center Honorees to the White House where he praised their lifelong contributions to the arts, and thanked them for sharing their talents with the world:

At a time of year when Americans everywhere are counting their blessings, we want to give thanks to their extraordinary contributions.  They have been blessings to all of us.  We are grateful that they’ve chosen to share their gifts, to enrich our lives, and to inspire us to new heights.

Every year the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts celebrates individuals who have made a lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television. This year’s honorees are singer Barbara Cook, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins and actress Meryl Streep. The President recognized the unique place each of the honorees holds in American culture and the importance of their work in American society:

So each of them have made these extraordinary contributions, and it’s worthwhile, then, for us to commit ourselves to making this a place where the arts can continue to thrive. Because right now, somewhere in America, there is a future Kennedy Center honoree — practicing on some phone books, or writing songs to impress a girl, or wondering if she can cut it on the big stage. Let’s make sure our young people can dream big dreams, and follow them as far as they can go. And let’s make sure the arts continue to be an important — no, a critical part of who we are in the kind of world that we want to live in.

Tonight, we congratulate all our extraordinary honorees.  Thank you very much

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors reception

President Barack Obama delivers remarks to celebrate the careers of, from left, Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins and Meryl Streep, during the Kennedy Center Honors reception in the East Room of the White House, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Kennedy Center Honors 34th Annual National Celebration of the Arts will air on Tuesday, December 27 at 9:00 p.m. on CBS (ET/PT).

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at Reception for Kennedy Center Honorees

The East Room

5:29 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, good evening, everybody.  Welcome to the White House.  What a spectacular looking crowd here.  (Laughter.)  I want to start by thanking David Rubenstein, Michael Kaiser, and the Kennedy Center Trustees, and everyone who has made the Kennedy Center such a wonderful place for so many people for so many years.  I also want to acknowledge my good friend, Caroline Kennedy, for continuing her family’s legacy of supporting the arts.  And finally, I want to thank the creator of the Kennedy Center Honors and the Co-Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, George Stevens.  (Applause.)  George and his son, Michael, are still bringing this show to life after 34 years, and we are grateful to both of them.  So — (applause.)

Tonight, we honor five giants from the world of the arts — not just for a single role or a certain performance, but for a lifetime of greatness.  And just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that they’re over the hill.  (Laughter.)  It just means they’ve come a long way.

Now, at first glance the men and women on this stage could not be more different.  They come from different generations, different walks of life.  They have different talents, and they’ve traveled different paths.  And yet they belong here together.  Because each of tonight’s honorees has felt the need to express themselves and share that expression with the world.

It’s a feeling that all of us have at some point in our lives.  That’s why we sing, even if it’s just in the shower.  (Laughter.)  It’s why we act, even if we never get past the school auditorium.  That’s why we dance, even if, as Michelle says, I look silly doing it.  (Laughter.)  It’s one of the downsides of being President:  Your dance moves end up on YouTube.  (Laughter.)

But tonight’s honorees take it a step further.  By expressing themselves, they help us learn something about ourselves.  They make us laugh.  They move us to tears.  They bring us together, and they push the boundaries of what we think is possible.  And each of them has been blessed with an extraordinary gift.  Tonight, we thank them for sharing that gift with us.

Barbara Cook has been said to have the most magnificent voice in popular music.  But she was born into a family that didn’t know the first thing about singing.  Growing up, while the other kids in her neighborhood were out playing hide and seek, Barbara would be inside listening to opera on the radio.  By the time she was 23, Barbara was starring in her first Broadway show, and she went on to win a Tony for her performance as the original “Marian the Librarian” in “The Music Man.”

But success didn’t come without pain, and she faced more than her share of challenges before a show-stopping concert at Carnegie Hall in 1975 catapulted her back into the spotlight.  Barbara’s greatest strength has always been her ability to put her own feelings and experiences into her songs.  As she says, “If I sing about emotion, and you say, yes, I’ve felt that, too, then it brings us together, even if it’s just for a little while.”

These days, Barbara has been through enough to sing just about anything.  So now she teaches up-and-coming singers to do the same.  The lesson always starts with “Be yourself,” a piece of advice that she has always taken to heart.  Maybe that’s what has kept her so young.  And Barbara says that some days she feels like she is 30, and tonight you look like you’re 30.  (Laughter.)  Some days she feels like she’s 12, although her knee apparently does not agree.  (Laughter.)

All we know is that we’ve never heard a voice like hers, so tonight we Barbara — honor Barbara Cook.  (Applause.)

Neil Diamond’s songwriting career began like so many others — he was trying to impress a girl.  (Laughter.)  The difference was that it worked and he went on to marry the girl.  As Neil says, “I should have realized then the potential power of songs and been a little more wary.”  (Laughter.)

Even after such a promising start, music wasn’t Neil’s first choice.  He wanted to go to medical school and find a cure for cancer.  But then he met reality, which for him came in the form of organic chemistry.  (Laughter.)  Neil ended up dropping out of college to take a $50-a-week songwriting job, and the “Solitary Man” was born.  With a voice he describes as being full of gravel, potholes, left turns and right turns, he went on to sell more than 125 million records.  Elvis and Frank Sinatra asked to record versions of his songs, and today, Neil is the rare musician whose work can be heard everywhere from kids’ movies to Red Sox games.  (Laughter.)

When someone asked him why “Sweet Caroline” remains so popular, Neil said, “It’s because anybody can sing, no matter how many drinks you’ve had.”  (Laughter.)

Now, his shirts aren’t as flashy as they used to be — I noticed you’re buttoned up all the way to the top there.  (Laughter.)  Neil can still — (laughter) — (inaudible) — (laughter) — Neil can still put a generation of fans in their seats.

And so tonight, we honor one of the great American songwriters for making us all want to sing along.  Thank you, Neil Diamond.  (Applause.)

When Sonny Rollins was growing up, he and his friends would sneak into jazz clubs by drawing mustaches on themselves — (laughter) — with an eyebrow pencil — (laughter) — to try to look older.  Did that work, Sonny?  (Laughter.)  We don’t know if it fooled anybody, but they did get into the clubs.

Harlem in the 1930s was a hotbed of jazz, and for a young musician with a big horn and bigger dreams, it was heaven.  Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins lived around the corner.  Sonny learned melody and harmony from Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis was a regular playing partner.

It wasn’t long before Sonny earned the nickname “the Saxophone Colossus,” and became known as one of the greatest improvisers in the history of jazz.  Today, he often plays hour-long solos without any repetition, leaving audiences speechless.  People sometimes wonder how he can play for so long, but in Sonny’s words, “It just means there’s something out there, and I know I have to find it.”

Sonny also loves to roam the crowd during a performance.  One story goes that he was halfway through a solo one night when he jumped off the stage and disappeared.  (Laughter.)  Just when the band was about to go looking for him, the solo started back up.  Sonny had broken his foot and was lying on the floor, but he finished the set with so much energy and passion, the audience didn’t notice.

To hear Sonny tell it, he’s just keeping things pure.  “The worst thing in the world to me is to play by rote,” he says.  “You have to play from the inside; that’s real jazz.”

So tonight, we honor a real jazz master, Mr. Sonny Rollins.  (Applause.)

Meryl Streep was once described as a cross between a den-mother and a class cutup.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know who that was, but — (laughter.)

When a reporter asked Clint Eastwood why he chose Meryl to star opposite him in “The Bridges of Madison County,” he shrugged and replied, “She’s the greatest actor in the world.”  At 15, Meryl won the role of “Marian the Librarian” — there’s a theme here — (laughter) — in her high school’s production of “The Music Man,” following the footsteps of her idol, Barbara Cook.  (Laughter.)  That led to Yale drama school, and then to Hollywood, where Meryl won two Oscars in 4 years.  And then she turned 38 — (laughter) — which, in Washington at least, according to Meryl, is the sell-by date for Hollywood actresses.  And she remembers turning to her husband, Don, and saying, “Well, it’s over.”

Luckily, it was not over.  Since then, Meryl has tackled incredibly complex roles, ranging from Julia Child to, most recently, Margaret Thatcher.  Today, she’s the most nominated actress in the history of the Academy Awards.  She’s tossed aside more than a few stereotypes along the way.  Each of her roles is different, and different from what we expect Meryl Streep to be.  As she says, “I’ve picked the weirdest little group of personalities, but I think they’ve all deserved to have a life.”

For giving life to those characters and joy to so many of us, let’s give Meryl Streep a round of applause.  (Applause.)

One final honoree is something of a regular here at the White House.  I was telling him we need to give him a room.  (Laughter.)  The Blue Room, the Red Room, and the Yo-Yo Ma room.  (Laughter.)  We keep inviting him, and for some reason, he keeps on coming back.  (Laughter.)

When Yo-Yo Ma took his first cello lesson, there wasn’t a chair short enough for him, so he sat on three phone books instead.  By the age of 4, he was learning the Bach suites.  At age 7, he was performing for President Kennedy in this room.  Today, he has 16 Grammys and is considered one of the greatest classical musicians alive.

But maybe the most amazing thing about Yo-Yo Ma is that everybody likes him.  (Laughter.)  You’ve got to give me some tips.  (Laughter and applause.)  It’s remarkable.

In a profession known for, let’s face it, some temperament among its stars, Yo-Yo is a little different.  He named one of his 300 year old cellos “Petunia.”  He’s a big hugger.  (Laughter.)  For every question you ask him, he asks you two in return.  He’s been named one of People Magazine’s sexiest men alive.  (Laughter.)  He has appeared on Sesame Street; I thought about asking him to go talk to Congress.  (Laughter and applause.)

And yet, somehow, he’s also found the time to become one of the most innovative and versatile musicians in the world.  Yo-Yo likes to say that his goal is to take listeners on a trip with him and make a lasting connection.  His sense of curiosity has driven him to experiment from everything from the Argentine tango to Chinese folk music, and he has brought musicians from around the world together with the sheer force of his personality.  As he says, “If I know what music you love, and you know what music I love, we start out having a better conversation.”

The great Pablo Casals once described himself as a human being first, a musician second, and a cellist third.  There is no doubt that Yo-Yo Ma is a great musician and a great cellist, but tonight we also honor him because he is a great human being.

Thank you, Yo-Yo Ma.  (Applause.)

Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Sonny Rollins, Meryl Streep, Yo-Yo Ma:  At a time of year when Americans everywhere are counting their blessings, we want to give thanks to their extraordinary contributions.  They have been blessings to all of us.  We are grateful that they’ve chosen to share their gifts, to enrich our lives, and to inspire us to new heights.

And I think, for all of us, each of us can probably remember some personal moment — Michelle, during the rope line, was talking about how her dad loved jazz and could hear Sonny Rollins blasting through their little house on South Side.  And it’s true — everybody sings Neil Diamond songs no matter how many drinks they’ve had.  (Laughter.)

Yo-Yo Ma, unfortunately my association with him is studying at law school, listening to Bach and his — no, it soothed my mind.  (Laughter.)

Meryl Streep, anybody who saw “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” had a crush on her.  I assume they — everybody remembers that.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  (Inaudible.)  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m ad libbing here a little bit.  (Laughter.)

So each of them have made these extraordinary contributions, and it’s worthwhile, then, for us to commit ourselves to making this a place where the arts can continue to thrive.  Because right now, somewhere in America, there is a future Kennedy Center honoree — practicing on some phone books, or writing songs to impress a girl, or wondering if she can cut it on the big stage.  Let’s make sure our young people can dream big dreams, and follow them as far as they can go.  And let’s make sure the arts continue to be an important — no, a critical part of who we are in the kind of world that we want to live in.

Tonight, we congratulate all our extraordinary honorees.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
5:45 P.M. EST

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