Kennedy Center Honors
December 6, 2010 by USA Post
Kennedy Center Honors, It is such a pleasure to welcome you back here to this beautiful national tradition. It is by any standards we can imagine, the best weekend in Washington. (Applause.) And it’s the tenth time since I got involved to help accommodate some of the Kennedy Center Honors. For eight years, Bill and I had the privilege of welcoming to the White House and now as Secretary of State I get the honor to welcome you here.
And it was really special standing in the receiving line and sees the kinds and passing generations. (Laughter.) The width and depth of American art and the extraordinary diversity of this vibrant nation of ours. I am writing a cable about it, I’m sure you will soon find your nearest site. (Laughter and applause.)
And this year, once again, we have an outstanding group of honorees. But in addition to the winners, there are so many great personalities of America, icons, examples and models here at this dinner. It is impossible to name and recognize all of you. But it is for us a wonderful way to celebrate the arts with those of us in government and politics and business come together and tell the American arts community how much we appreciate you and how much you enrich our country and how are you – (applause) – truly our best exports.
As I travel around the world, I see the ground effects of American culture. And in the vast majority of my experience, it’s exciting, it is inspiring, it is dynamic, it gives young people in particular places so far away a sense of freedom in their imagination and aspirations. And for that we are deeply grateful.
Now, in just a few minutes, the divine Jessye Norman, which I was privileged to see him receive his laurels Kennedy Center in 1997, will tell you more about life and work of five artists. So I’ll leave that she and our winners, but I just want to point out why this is, for me, an event that stands out throughout the year and was worth flying very far from returning to – ( Laughter and applause) – because I have the great honor to be secretary of state and goes from one country to another, meeting with leaders who share our values or, in many cases, dismiss them, but all know that America stands for the liberation of the human spirit, who understand that the reader of the man to create added texture and truth of our lives, and it is universal and – yes – irresistible . And it may take decades for this to finally be accepted and implemented, but we know it will happen. And we see in our own lives and we see in the work of many of you who have brought great joy and a challenge for us because of your desire to go there, be vulnerable, expose them to take a chance and then see what happens.
And this is certainly true of artists we are celebrating tonight. Tonight is not to honor American artists, as it is to pay tribute to artists who have shaped America. And it’s an important distinction, not only because one of our winners is a knight of the realm – (laughter) – but because America has always been influenced by the experiences and contributions of other cultures. Now, we certainly have our own signature way of doing things, but we thrive on the influx of ideas from around the world. And as our nation of immigrants – a proud nation of immigrants – is becoming more diverse and more connected world, the arts become even richer.
And our artists, then, indeed, to read and absorb what is happening in society. They reinterpret and remake all these influences and create something new – an export without a doubt America that inspires and challenges people beyond our borders. Thus, circles of inspiration and continuous creation, and overcome the barriers that divide us. As I travel, I do not meet the heads of state or abroad, but I always try to meet with citizens, especially young people. So I do town halls or other places where I said a few words and then let people ask me questions. And there’s just one obvious influence of the American ideal, which so often is transmitted because of the work of our artists. And I thank you, because it provides a common basis, a common vocabulary that is often lacking, which can help bring people together and bridge our differences.
The people we honor tonight are truly exemplary of what it means. Bill T. Jones recently won a Tony Award for his choreography of Fela! And he took the life and work of a Nigerian activist and Afrobeat pioneer and composer showed how he was initially influenced by American jazz and funk, and then beyond.
Jerry Herman is an icon of American musical theater – one of our greatest contributions to the arts world. And we know best for the typical American stories he tells through music and lyrics, but it was something that the history of Israel from Hello, Dolly! And covers much ground in between.
Now, Paul McCartney has virtually redefined the music in his life, inspired thousands of others. And I must say, Paul, several waves of teenage hysteria – (laughter). I still remember – and this really dates me – there are so many young people here, but we had three television channels and we had black and white TVs, and every Sunday evening, everyone in America watched the Ed Sullivan Show. (Laughter.) And that’s where we first saw the Beatles.
But it’s exciting to have you here with us, and having lived a life that has really connected people around the world. Because our struggles for equality, our optimism about the future, our sense of adventure, is at the heart of the American spirit. And no one captures this spirit better than Merle Haggard. He related the American experience for nearly half a century of ups and downs with great honesty, and poetry and wry humor, and above all, hopes. And it does tell us in a difficult period in his songs that adversity can be overcome, and not everyone gets a second chance. Redemption is always at hand, whether you’re an individual or a nation.
And to think that American culture influences Oprah is like saying Jerry Herman wrote a catchy song – (laughter), or Bill T. Jones is a little flexible – (laughter). But his greatest strength is rooted in her heart that she has shared with America for so many years, and its just overwhelming desire to make a difference in the lives of people she will never meet, but who feel like they know her. A Saudi woman told the American newspaper, The New York Times a few years ago, and I quote: “I think that Oprah truly understands me … sometimes I think she is the only person on earth who knows what I feel. (Laughter and applause.)
So when we say that art is a common language we share with each other and with people around the world, we’re not just paying lip service to something that sounds good in a speech. But we live it. We know that art changes the way we feel about ourselves and about our environment, and about our country and our world. It opens our minds to new possibilities.
And tonight we are privileged to honor five outstanding individuals who move us, inspire us and remind us what the human mind is capable.
And now I’m trying to give the president of the Kennedy Center, David Rubenstein, who has given a great speech I heard at lunch. (Applause.) David, please.
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