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]
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
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]
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
� 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.
� 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
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.
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 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
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."
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,
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.