Compilation of Weekly Presidential Documents - December 11, 2000 - Remarks at the Kennedy Center honors reception

Monday, December 11, 2000


Volume 36, Issue 49; ISSN: 0511-4187


Remarks at the Kennedy Center honors reception

William J Clinton



� December 3, 2000



� Thank you very much. Thank you, Senator. [Laughter] I'm trying to

get used to that. I want to--[laughter]-look, I've got to take every

opportunity I can to practice here. [Laughter]



� I want to welcome you all here, especially, of course, our honorees

and other artists and former honorees; Members of Congress who are

here-Senator and Mrs. Lott, welcome; we're glad to see you-and to

all our other distinguished guests.



� As Hillary said, it has been a profound honor for us and a great

joy to do these Kennedy Center Honors for 8 years in a row now. We

thank the people we honor tonight and their predecessors for lifting

our spirits and broadening our horizons.



� Thirty-eight years ago, President Kennedy wrote that "art means

more than a resuscitation of the past. It means the free and

unconfined search for new ways of expressing the experience of the

present and the vision of the future." Each in their own way,

tonight's honorees have brought to a venerable art form a spark of

the new and unexpected. And each has left it more modern, more

brilliant, and forever changed for the better. Now, let me present




� Very few people visit the East Room, where we now are, and find

themselves in danger of striking the 20-foot ceiling. [Laughter] But

that is exactly what happened to Mikhail Baryshnikov when he arrived

to rehearse for a White House performance in 1979. With a portable

stage set up, even this stately ceiling was too low for his

trademark soaring leaps. No ceiling or boundary, not even the Iron

Curtain, has ever held him back for long.



� His successful performance of that night was televised for millions

of Americans as "Baryshnikov at the White House," another step

towards cementing his reputation as the greatest male classical

dancer of our time. With his daring leap to freedom in 1974, he also

inspired millions with the idea of liberty, and he used his freedom

to move beyond classical ballet to movies and to Broadway and, in

1976, to fulfill a lifelong dream by bounding onto the stage of

American modern dance. And it has never been the same since.



� From "Push Comes To Shove" to his path breaking White Oak Dance

Project, Mikhail Baryshnikov has pushed the boundaries of a

challenging art form even as he has broadened its audience. He

continues to give brilliant performances at an age when most of us

are, frankly, being told to get our exercise in private. [Laughter]



� So tonight America says, thank you, Mikhail Baryshnikov, for the

heights to which you have lifted the art of dance and the heights to

which you have lifted all of us. Thank you.



� No less an authority than John Lennon oncesaid, "If you tried to

give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry."

[Laughter] The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones all

copied him, but Chuck Berry was the original. He fused country and

blues into a new sound that was distinctly American and utterly new.

And 40 years later, the Chuck Berry sound still blazes across our

stages and from our radios.



� He is, quite simply, one of the 20th centurys most influential

musicians. His guitar riffs were some of rock's first, and they're

still some of its greatest. His stage moves, especially the

duckwalk, which he invented, are often imitated, sometimes

intentionally(laughter]-but never equalled. His fresh and vivid

lyrics captured American life, whether you're rich or poor, young or

not so young, and they suggested the rhythms of a new and better day

for black and white Americans alike. NASA even sent Chuck Berry's

music on a space probe searching for intelligent life in outer

space. [Laughter] Well, now, if they're out there, theyre

duckwalking. [Laughter]



� It was my great honor to invite Chuck to play at both my inaugurals

and my 25th reunion at Georgetown University, which we held here on

the White House grounds. 1, too, have loved him for more than 40

years. So we say, thank you, Chuck Berry, for making us laugh,

making us shout, making us dance, and making us happy together.

Thank you.



� These days you hear a lot of people saying we need to change the

tenor here in Washington. [Laughter] They are not talking about

Placido Domingo. [Laughter] We are truly blessed to have him as

artistic director, as a conductor, and still performing as one of

the greatest operatic tenors of all time.



� It is almost now impossible to imagine opera without him. He has

performed 118 roles, probably more than any other tenor ever. He is

still adding new ones. He has set new standards, and he has worked

unceasingly to bring opera to a wider audience through movies,

television, and live concerts, and of course, especially as one of

the famed Three Tenors. Their concerts have brought operatic singing

to an audience of one billion people across the globe. Think about

it: one in six people has thrilled to the sound of this man's voice.



� But he has always been more than a voice. As a young man, he

prepared for later life in Washington as an amateur bullfighter.

[Laughter) Now, instead of a cape, however, he waves the baton,

which means that he is the only person in Washington who gets at

least a finite group of people to do what he tells them to do.




� As a visionary artistic director of opera here in Washington and in

Los Angeles, a frequent performer around our Nation, he has truly

sparked the rebirth of American opera. And he has shared his

prodigious gifts wider, in support of disaster relief efforts from

Armenia to Acapulco. Through his annual vocal competition he has

championed young singers all over the world and has worked to bring

opera to places it has never before been heard.



� So we say thank you-thank you, Placido Domingo, for sharing with us

your matchless artistry and for being a true citizen of the world.



� For more than 35 years now, Clint Eastwood has been one of

America's favorite movie stars. Of course, he's also an Oscarwinning

director. He's actually done pretty well for a former elected

official. [Laughter] I hope I am half as successful. [Laughter] I

think he didn't keep running for office because he realized once you

get in politics, you can't do what he did in most of his movies to

your adversaries-[laughter]-although you can wish to do it, from

time to time. [Laughter]



� His path to stardom began with bit parts in movies that starred a

tarantula and a talking mule. His break came in the spaghetti

western "A Fistful of Dollars," an Italian movie filmed in Spain,

based on a classic Japanese film. [Laughter] But the rest is history

for the Italians, the Spanish, the Japanese, and most of all, for

the Americans.



� "The Man With No Last Name" has truly become a household name. His

characters have ranged the peaks and valleys of human experience,

from urban vigilantes to mythical cowboys, from troubled artists to

Secret Service agents. And while he keeps making top-grossing

movies, Clint Eastwood also keeps taking risks, playing against

type, making small, thoughtful films that no one else would, quietly

building a second career as one of our best directors, composing

songs for five of his movies, and turning his lifelong love of jazz

into a movie about the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker.



� Like the strong, silent cowboy he so often played, Clint Eastwood

has become a quiet force in American film and a star for the ages.

We thank you, Clint Eastwood, for giving us a lot to cheer about and

lately, a lot to think about. Thank you very much.



� Earlier this decade, TV Guide gave Angela Lansbury a perfect 100 on

its lovability index. [Laughter] Now, that's what we need more of in

Washington. [Laughter] There's no mystery why. She's known and

adored by tens of millions of viewers as Jessica Fletcher on "Murder

She Wrote." But fans who have followed her remarkable career know

her just as well as Broadway's greatest stage mother of them all,

Gypsy Rose Lee. And everyone who loves movies about politics

remembers her brilliant performances in "The Manchurian Candidate"

and "State of the Union."



� The United States was lucky to welcome Angela Lansbury to our

shores as a child refugee from the Nazi bombing of London in 1940.

Just 4 years later, she made her first movie and won her first Oscar

nomination. She went on to earn two more and became an acclaimed

actress in an impressive variety of roles.



� Hollywood alone couldn't hold her. She conquered Broadway in

"Maine" and went on to win four Tony Awards. Then she found

television, and "Murder She Wrote," which began in 1984, continued

for 12 successful seasons.



� Over her career her acting has given us a window into the full

range of human emotion and experience. Her inventiveness and courage

have inspired her colleagues, and her commitment to charity,

especially the fight against AIDS, should inspire us all.



� Well, Angela, you earned your perfect score. And we thank you for a

wonderful lifetime of gifts.



� Well, there they are, ladies and gentlemen: Mikhail Baryshnikov,

who soared out of the Soviet Union and into our hearts; Chuck Berry,

who rock-and-rolled his way from segregated St. Louis into the

American mainstream; Placido Domingo, who brought the songs from

Spain and changed the tenor of America's music; Clint Eastwood, who

rose out of Depression-era California to earn a place on the

Hollywood Walk of Fame; and Angela Lansbury, who left her childhood

home in England to become American royalty.



� Each one has given us something unique and enriched us beyond

measure. Together they bring us closer to President Kennedy's vision

of art as a great unifying and humanizing experience. Their triumphs

have lifted our Nation and left us a better and richer place.



� Again let me say to all of you, this night and every night before

it has been a profound honor for Hillary and me. You may find people

who do this night better in the future; you will never find anybody

who loves it as much.



� Thank you, and God bless you.



� NOTE: The President spoke at 6 Lm. in the East Room at the White

House. In his remarks, he referred to Patricia Thompson Lott, wife

of Senator Trent Lott.



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