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 Political Transcripts December 6, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors Reception Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President to the 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees

Source: WH, 12-6-15 

East Room

5:15 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Please, everybody, have a seat, have a seat.  Have a seat and welcome to the White House.  This is a good-looking group.  (Laughter.)  President Kennedy once said, “There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.”

I believe he was right.  Our achievements as a country and as a culture go hand-in-hand.  The oldest of the 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees was born over 90 years ago — you won’t be able to tell.  (Laughter.)  But when we look back on the last century, for all the challenges we faced, what we see is a time of extraordinary progress.  We won one World War, and then another.  We endured one depression, and prevented another.  And through it all, we created new medicines and technologies that changed the world for the better.  We welcomed new generations of striving immigrants that made our country stronger.  We worked together, and marched together, to open up new doors of opportunity for women, African Americans, Latinos, LGBT Americans, Americans with disabilities -– achievements that made all of us more free.

Tonight, we honor five artists who helped tell the story of the first American century through music, theater, and film -– and by doing so, helped to shape it, helped to inspire it, helped to fortify our best instincts about ourselves.

(Baby makes noises.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  (Laughter.)  It includes your grandpa.  (Laughter.)

About 80 years ago, the ship carrying a young girl named Rosa Dolores Alverio — (applause) — from Puerto Rico — (applause) — came into New York City, steamed by the Statue of Liberty.  “Oh my goodness,” she thought, “a lady runs this country!”  (Laughter and applause.)  She wasn’t yet known by the stage name of Rita Moreno, but even then, she knew she wanted to be a star.  At age nine, she debuted as a dancer.  At 13, she set foot in a Broadway theatre for the first time in her life -– as a member of the cast.  At 30, she became the first Latina to win an Academy Award for her unforgettable performance as “Anita” in “West Side Story.”

(Baby makes noises.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, it was good, wasn’t it?  (Laughter.)

After more than seven decades on stage and screen, Rita’s one of just a handful of artists to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.  She’s got an “EGOT.”  (Applause.)  But being a pioneer is never easy.  For years, she was pigeonholed as what she called, “the house ethnic.”  She says she played all her parts with the same accent, because nobody “seemed to care.”  And when she pushed back against Hollywood typecasting, the roles dried up.  But Rita refused to sell herself short.  This is a woman who won the Tony for best supporting actress, then concluded her acceptance speech by reminding everyone, “I am a leading lady — I am not a supporting actress.”  (Laughter and applause.)

And she was right.  She was the leading lady of that show.  And she is still a leading lady of her era, a trailblazer with the courage to break through barriers and forge new paths.  Eight decades after Rita Moreno first laid eyes on the Statue of Liberty, she continues to personify its promise:  that here, in America, no matter what you look like or where you come from or what your last name is, you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)

As a teenager in Tokyo, an aspiring classical pianist named Seiji Ozawa defied his mother’s orders and joined a rugby match.  Now, I have to say, looking at you Seiji, I’m not sure that was a good idea.  (Laughter.)  I mean, I don’t know much about rugby.  (Laughter.)  He broke two fingers, and that put an end to his piano-playing career –- but fortunately for the rest of us, it opened up the door to a career as a conductor.

Here, Michelle and my mother-in-law would like me to point out that defying one’s mother does not usually work out well.  (Laughter.)

But there are exceptions, and for Seiji, it did.  In 1960, when he was 25 years old, he landed at Logan Airport with only a few words of English and a sign that read, “Lennox, Mass.” But his work as a conductor spoke volumes.  Just a few weeks later, the New York Times pronounced him “a name to remember.”  He went on to become Leonard Bernstein’s assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic, and then led the Toronto and San Francisco Symphonies, all by the time he was 35.  It makes you feel kind of underachieving.  (Laughter.)  His conducting was somehow sensitive and intense, drawing the “lyric essence” of every note.  And with his mop haircut, and his turtlenecks, and his love beads, he almost looked like a Beatle.  (Laughter.)

And in 1973, Seiji found his musical home with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he led for 29 years.  When he wasn’t cheering on his beloved Red Sox and Patriots, he was transfixing audiences with passionate, precise performances conducted entirely from memory, using his whole body -– elbows, fingers, knees, hair -– (laughter) — as a baton.  Seiji has dedicated his life to bridging East and West with classical music.  In his words, “Music is easier to understand than language — it can be understood right away.  Just like the sunset, which is beautiful wherever you watch it.”  (Applause.)

As a child in Harlem, Cicely Tyson sold shopping bags on the street corner to make — to help her family make ends meet.  After high school, she found work as a secretary — until one day she stood up and announced to everyone in the room, “[I am] sure that God did not put me on the face of this Earth to bang on a typewriter for the rest of my life!”  (Laughter and applause.)

Cicely was already displaying what you could call a flair for the dramatic.  (Laughter.)  And like all great actors, she never just plays a character -– she becomes one.  “I’m looking inside myself,” she once explained.  “Inside of me is where this character is coming from.”

It certainly took character to get where she is today.  As a black woman, Cicely wasn’t offered many roles with the pay and stature her tremendous talent should have commanded.  But that only steeled her resolve.  She once said, “When I became aware of the kind of ignorance that existed, I made a very conscious decision that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress — I had some very important things to say, and I would say them through my work.”

Cicely has been saying important things for nearly 60 years, from “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” to “Sounder,” to “The Trip to the Bountiful.”  And even now, eight shows a week, she walks onto a Broadway stage to beat James Earl Jones in hand after hand of rummy in “The Gin Game.”  (Laughter and applause.)  At 90 years old, she’s still delivering remarkable, heartfelt performances night after night after night -– just like God intended, and she sure does look good doing it every night.  (Applause.)  Cicely Tyson.  (Applause.)

At age 15, a young woman named Carol Klein formed a doo-wop group with her friends called “The Co-Sines” — Co-Sines — that’s a little math.  (Laughter.)  They did great with the hard-to-reach trigonometry demographic.  (Laughter and applause.)  Around the same time, Carol talked to a DJ, and asked him the best way to get in touch with record companies.  He told her a secret –- look them up in a phone book.  (Laughter.)  So Carol made some calls, landed a contract, and took on the stage name of Carole King.

It turned out to be a perfect choice -– because today, in the world of American music, Carole is royalty.  By the time she was 30, she’d teamed up with Gerry Goffin to write hits like “Up on the Roof” for The Drifters.  “One Fine Day” for The Chiffons.  “The Loco-Motion” for Little Eva.  And of course, “You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)” – I think I just became the first President ever to say that.  (Laughter and applause.)  It sounded better when Aretha said it.  (Laughter and applause.)

And then finally, in the 1970s, Carole found the perfect voice for her songs, which was her own.  At one point, her solo album “Tapestry” — which, by the way, was one of the first albums I ever bought — was the highest-selling album of any genre in history.  It stayed on the charts for six years, full of songs you could not get out of your head -– songs about home, and friendship, and vulnerability; songs about just being human.  And that’s what makes Carole so special.  Whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall — (laughter) — whether she’s fighting with passion for our environment or campaigning for the causes that she believes in; Carole is always that honest, unvarnished voice –- the friend who tells you again and again that you are beautiful — as beautiful as you feel.  (Applause.)

George Lucas recently shared one of his regrets. He told a reporter, “I never got the experience that everyone else got to have.  I never got to see ‘Star Wars.’”  (Laughter.)

Well, George, let me tell you -– you missed out.  It was really good. (Laughter.)  That movie was awesome.  (Laughter.)

As one wise Jedi Master might put it, “Changed nearly everything, George Lucas has.”  (Laughter.)  George was at the vanguard of the New Hollywood, blending genres and combining timeless themes with cutting-edge technology.  Without him, movies would not look as good or sound as good as they do today.  Spaceships might still fly around the screen with little strings attached to them.  (Laughter.)  The effects were only part, though, of what makes George special.  He created a mythology so compelling that in a 2001 census, the fourth-largest religion in the United Kingdom was “Jedi.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Think about how many children have been raised, at least in part, by George Lucas.  (Laughter.)  Think about how many young people searching for their place in the universe have thought to themselves, “If a kid from Tatooine moisture farm can go from bulls-eyeing womp rats in his T-16 to saving the galaxy, then maybe I can be something special too?”  (Laughter.)  How many engineers got their start arguing about the structural flaws in the Death Star?  How many philosophers got their start arguing about whether Han shot first?  (Laughter.)  How many bookish teenagers have taken solace in the fact that the most charismatic guy on the planet is an archeologist named Indiana Jones?  (Laughter.)

George, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they might even make a brand new “Star Wars” movie soon.  (Laughter.)  It’s very low-key, it’s not getting a lot of promotion.  (Laughter.)  But it’s also pretty remarkable that nearly 40 years after the first star destroyer crawled across the screen, we are still obsessed with George’s vision of a galaxy far, far away.  And we’ll be raising our children on his stories for a long, long time to come.  (Applause.)

Rita Moreno.  Seiji Ozawa.  Cicely Tyson.  Carole King.  George Lucas.  Each of these artists was born with something special to offer their country and the world.  Each of them found a way to enrich our lives with their lives’ work.  For all the joy and the pleasure, all the insight and the understanding that they have brought to us over the years, we want to thank them -– and we sure are proud to celebrate them as our 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees.  Please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

END
5:32 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: at Kennedy Center Honors Reception — Transcript

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Kennedy Center Honors Reception

Source: WH, 12-7-14

East Room

5:09 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good evening.

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House.  Michelle and I love this event.  Everybody looks so nice.  (Laughter.)  This is one of our favorites.  And as Lily used to say — that’s the truth.  (Laughter.)   Now, as a President, I cannot stick out my tongue.  That might cause an international incident.

But I want to start the evening by thanking David Rubenstein and the Kennedy Center Trustees, and the Kennedy Center’s new president, Deborah Rutter.  Where’s Deborah?  (Applause.)  Yay!  I want to thank George and Michael Stevens, who produce this event every year.  (Applause.)  Lately, they’ve won an Emmy for it just about every year, as well.  So we are very proud to have them here.  In fact, Michelle and I call this the “Stevens season.”  (Laughter.)

President Kennedy once wrote, “The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose — and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.”

I think Tom Hanks will agree that President Kennedy was probably envisioning “Joe Versus the Volcano” when he wrote that.  (Laughter.)  Although, I have to say, “Big” was on last night.  (Applause.)  And that — so things balance out.  (Laughter.)  But it’s clear that the group on stage with me tonight understands what President Kennedy understood: that our art is a reflection of us not just as people, but as a nation.  It binds us together.  Songs and dance and film express our triumphs and our faults, our strengths, our tenderness in ways that sometimes words simply cannot do.  And so we honor those who have dedicated their lives to this endeavor.  Those who have tapped into something previously unspoken, or unsung, or unexpressed.  Those who have shown us not simply who they are, but who we all are.  Those who are able to tap into those things we have in common, and not just those things that push us apart.

Now, I’m going to start with somebody who I know all of you think about whenever I sing, and that’s Reverend Al Green.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been keeping his traditions alive.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Do it again.  Do it again.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I’m not going to do it again.  I’m not going to do it.  (Laughter.)  No.  No.  That was like a one-time thing.  My voice didn’t crack.  It was a fluke.  I can sing a little, but I cannot sing like Al Green.  Nobody can sing like Al Green.  (Applause.)  Nobody can sing like Al Green.  That soul, that light falsetto.  His music can bring people together.  In fact, he says he can hardly go anywhere without a fan coming up to him, pulling out a picture of one of their kids, and telling him which of his songs helped that child enter the world.  (Laughter.)  I embarrassed the Reverend.  Look, at him, he’s all like — (laughter).

Al was born in Forrest City, Arkansas, one of 10 kids packed into a two-bedroom house.  In his early 20s, he signed with Hi Records and helped bring Memphis soul into the spotlight with songs like “Tired of Being Alone.”

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Mm-hmm.

THE PRESIDENT:  Mm-hmm.  “Let’s Stay Together,” “Take Me to the River.”

AUDIENCE:  Mmm.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  They’re thinking about all those songs and how it brought people together.  (Laughter.)  In the 1970s, he became a pastor at his church in Memphis, and later he started churning out a string of gospel hits that earned him eight Grammys.  And as the years passed, he’s woven together his gospel and soul careers, recently collaborating with the Roots, John Legend, and his Memphis neighbor, Justin Timberlake.  And of course, he’s still singing from the pulpit on Sunday.  As he says, “The greatest thing that ever happened to me…the little boy from Arkansas, was that amidst all the doubts…I found peace.”  For the peace he found and the soul he has shared with all of us, tonight we honor the Reverend, Al Green.  (Applause.)

On the night of Patricia McBride’s farewell performance at the New York City Ballet, the crowd showered her with 13,000 roses.  Thankfully, they cut the thorns off first.  (Laughter.)  And that is fitting, because when you hear about Patricia, you hear about somebody who is all rose and no thorn; legendary for her good cheer, her sweetness, her unabashed joyfulness.  And that personality translated to the stage, where her humor and grace was matched only by her power and stamina, and incredible athleticism.  She’s one of the most versatile dancers we’ve ever seen.

Patricia became the principal dancer at the New York City Ballet when she was just 18 years old, the youngest to ever hold that role, and she kept at it for 28 years — longer than anybody else in history.  By the time she was finished, some of our greatest choreographers had written dozens of pieces just for her — which is not bad for a shy young girl who grew up in the shadow of World War II, putting glue on the toes of her dance shoes to make them last longer.

She’s the daughter of a single mom who worked as a bank secretary in a day when most mothers didn’t work outside the home, who pinched pennies from that job and paid the 75 cents for each dance lesson.  Today, Patricia hasn’t forgotten where she came from.  She and her husband Jean-Pierre are in charge of the critically acclaimed Charlotte Ballet, which offers a program that gives dance scholarships to young people in need.  So for sharing her spirit and her smile in so many ways, tonight we honor Patricia McBride.  (Applause.)

In “Nine To Five,” Lily Tomlin plays an undervalued employee whose chauvinist boss steals her ideas and screams at her to get coffee.  Finally, she and two coworkers get so fed up, they kidnap him.  They get to work changing the office.  Working moms get treated better.  Productivity rises.  The top brass are thrilled.  It’s basically a live-action version of the working family policies I’ve been promoting for years.  (Laughter and applause.)  We’ve sent DVDs to all members of Congress to try to get them on the program.  (Laughter.)

That role has Lily written all over it.  It’s edgy, a little dark, but fundamentally optimistic.  She’s created countless characters — from Ernestine, the telephone operator; to “Lucille the rubber freak;” to Edith Ann, the five-and-a-half-year-old philosopher — all of them kind of oddballs, like Lily — (laughter) — all portrayed with incredible warmth and affection, like Lily.  She pushed boundaries, as well.  On her 1973 variety show, “Lily,” she and Richard Pryor performed a skit called “Juke and Opal,” about two black folks hanging out in a diner.  (Laughter.)  One reviewer called it “the most profound meditation on race and class that I have ever seen on a major network” — which says something both about Lily and the major networks.  (Laughter.)  That was ad-libbed, by the way.  (Laughter.)  In her one-woman show, “The Search of Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” written by her brilliant partner, Jane Wagner — (applause) — yay, Jane — Lily played a dozen characters, transforming instantly into men and women, young, old, crazy and sane.

And this versatility has led to a flood of awards — Emmys, Tonys, a Grammy, Oscar nomination.  She’s just inches away from an EGOT.  And now she’s a Kennedy Center honoree.  When asked what she hoped her tribute tonight would look like, she said, “What I’d like to see is a big stream of gay drag artists come out as Ernestine.”  (Laughter and applause.)  I haven’t talked to George Stevens.  I don’t know whether this has been arranged.  (Laughter.)  Although, I’d like to see it, too.  I think — (laughter.)  But I can promise that your contributions to American stage and screen will live on.  For her genius, her compassion, for just being funny, we honor tonight Lily Tomlin.  (Applause.)

About 40 years ago, a young singer-songwriter named Gordon Sumner was known to wear a yellow and black striped sweater. Ever since, he’s been known by one name: Sting.  Now, not everybody can pull off a name like Sting, but this guy can.  His wife, Trudie, calls him Sting.  Apparently his kids call him Sting.  (Laughter.)  “POTUS” is a pretty good nickname — (laughter) — but let’s face it, it’s not as cool as “Sting.”  (Laughter.)  I kind of wish I was called “Sting.”  I’m stuck with “POTUS.”  (Laughter.)

But everybody knows that Sting is more than just a name.  He is an all-around creative force.  There’s his singular voice on classics from The Police — “Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take,” “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”   There’s his incredible solo career — the songwriting that shape-shifts between rock and jazz and reggae, and rhythms drawn from all around the world.  He’s acted in films.  He’s topped the classical charts.  He just opened a musical on Broadway.  The guy once turned down a chance to be a Bond villain.  Who does that?  (Laughter.)  Sting apparently.  I mean, look at him — he’s too cool, right?

Because just being a celebrity was never Sting’s goal.  This is a man who comes from humble roots.  He’s the son of a milkman and a hairdresser.  When he was a child, he was so tall that his classmates called him “Lurch.”  They regret that now.  (Laughter.)  That’s payback right there.  He’s here.  You, whoever you are — you’re out there.  (Laughter and applause.)  Before he had any success as a singer, he had worked as a teacher, a construction worker, and in a tax office.  And if a few things had gone differently, we could be living in a world with a really hip, cool tax clerk named Lurch.  (Laughter.)  Instead, we’ve got Sting — artist, truth-teller, a champion of human rights, a champion of our environment.  And for all those reasons, and the fact that his music is spectacular and beautiful — for all those reasons, tonight we honor Sting.  (Applause.)

One of four kids in his family in Concord, California, Tom Hanks once said his idea of a good time growing up was to take a bus to Sacramento.  (Laughter.)  In the years since, Tom has flown a rocket to outer space, he’s fallen in love with a mermaid, he’s faced down Somali pirates, mooned the President of the United States.  (Laughter.)  I’m glad he got that last one out of his system before this evening.  (Laughter.)

Tom’s career began just like so many Hollywood legends — dressing in drag for a show called “Bosom Buddies” — (laughter) — kung-fu fighting The Fonz on “Happy Days.”  But he first won our hearts in comedy, with big hits like “Big” and “Splash.”  I did watch “Big” last night.  That’s a great movie.  I love that movie.  Got kind of choked up at the end.  And as the years passed, he told us “there’s no crying in baseball,” “life is like a box of chocolates.”  He told “Houston, we have a problem.”  And as a cartoon cowboy, he showed us we can always keep our faith in a little boy.

But Tom isn’t known simply for his characters — he’s known for his character.  For his tremendous support of our veterans, he’s in the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.  For his support of the space program, he has an asteroid named after him.  Through Tom, we’ve seen our World War II heroes not simply in sepia-tones somewhere in the distance, but as they truly were: gritty, emotional, flawed, human.  Through Tom, we saw the courageous faces behind an AIDS epidemic often overshadowed by stigma and bigotry.  Through Tom, again and again, we’ve seen our passion and our resolve, and our love for each other.  As his friend Steven Spielberg once said, “If Norman Rockwell were alive today, he would paint a portrait of Tom.”

And people have said that Tom is Hollywood’s everyman; that he’s this generation’s Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper.  But he’s just Tom Hanks.  And that’s enough.  That’s more than enough.  And for that, we honor him tonight — Mr. Tom Hanks.  (Applause.)

So, Reverend Al Green; Patricia McBride; Lily Tomlin;  Sting; Tom Hanks — charm, soul, spirit spunk — they’ve helped us better understand ourselves and each other.  And, as President Kennedy expressed, they’ve helped us center our purpose as a nation, and together reflect the quality of our society.  For that, we cannot thank them enough.  We are so glad to be able to celebrate these extraordinary people.  Thank you for everything that you’ve given to us over the years and for what you’re going to give us in the future.

Congratulations.  God bless you all.  Please join me in saluting one last time our extraordinary Kennedy Center Honorees for this evening.  (Applause.)

END

5:28 P.M. EST

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

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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