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Powell: Remarks at the Kennedy Center Honors

Remarks at the Kennedy Center Honors

Secretary Colin L. Powell
The Kennedy Center
Washington, DC
December 4, 2004

(7:00 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY POWELL: Good evening. Thank you very much. Well, good evening to you, Ladies and Gentlemen. Alma and I are pleased to welcome you to the State Department. This is an event we look forward to every year. And this year we especially welcome Steve Schwarzman, the Kennedy Center's new Chairman of the Board, and his wife Christine. (Applause.) Welcome.

One of the great joys of being Secretary of State is getting to host the Annual Kennedy Center Honors here in this beautiful Ben Franklin State Dining Room, as we call it. We hold hundreds of official events here every year and it is in this room that we receive foreign ministers and heads of state. You might be amused to know that when I greet people here and talk to them, I always say that the Kennedy Center Honors is one of the most prestigious and fascinating events that we have here. And you should hear the oooh's and aaaah's when I say to them Elizabeth Taylor was over there and James Brown was over there. (Laughter.)

It's a wonderful room. And we swear in all of our new ambassadors in this room, and we do it not just to send them off in style, but these surroundings show President Bush's newest ambassadors that they continue a long tradition of service to the nation, marching all the way back to America's first ambassador, America's first envoy, who was Benjamin Franklin.

As glorious as this room is, and especially as glorious as it is tonight, it is never more beautiful to me as it is on a Friday afternoon every now and again when I swear in our new junior officers to the Foreign Service. I'll have these wonderful young people arrayed in chairs before me, and here in this room we connect the Founding Fathers and what they stood for to the newest carriers of the nation's values, as these young people stand before me, raise their right hands and solemnly take that same timeless oath: "I solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States."

For me, it's always a moving moment to receive these youngsters into my care, into the care of the Department. They're at the beginning of their careers and the future success of American diplomacy will depend upon their skill and their dedication.

And as surely as our men and women in uniform do, the men and women of American diplomacy help our country stand tall on the frontlines of freedom. Indeed, in Iraq in the past few months we have lost two of them, two members of our State Department family: a Diplomatic Security officer, and just last week, we lost a specialist, an educational specialist, who was working hard to improve the quality of education for new generations of Iraqis. Our hearts go out to the families of the fallen.

And I know I speak for all of us here tonight when I say that our thoughts and prayers also turn to the wonderful men and women of our Armed Forces and their coalition partners from many other lands who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other far-flung places around the world where freedom is in danger.

They have put their lives on the line to preserve, protect and defend the blessings of liberty for all of us and to help others around the globe secure freedom's blessings for themselves and for their children, just as our Founding Fathers represented in this room and the rooms next door did it for us.

All around the world, America and other democratic nations are helping establish the political and economic freedoms that can attract trade and investment, spur development and help millions of needy people escape poverty.

We are helping to create representative, non-corrupt institutions of government. We are promoting free and fair democratic elections. As I speak, we and other democracies stand with the citizens of Ukraine as they stand up for their civic rights and demand that the outcome of their election reflects the will of the people.

We are forging public and private partnerships. We don't just do it alone in government. We're forming partnerships to promote the rule of law, foster the development of vibrant civil societies and independent media. We're forming public-private partnerships to combat infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

And among these important partnerships are those that we have forged with American artists who so generously lend their time and talent to helping us reach out to people of goodwill on every continent.

Under our CultureConnect program, as we call it, the Kennedy Center's own Michael Kaiser went to Baghdad and he arranged for the Iraqi National Symphony to come and play at our beloved Kenned Center. World-renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma is helping to train young Iraqi musicians. Internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves has taught master classes in Latin America and Eastern Europe and Russia. Award-winning choreographer and actress and director, a friend of all of us, Debbie Allen, traveled all around China giving master classes and recitals. And in Botswana, one of the original Supremes, the most supreme of the Supremes, Mary Wilson, publicly took an HIV/AIDS test to encourage others to do the same and then she gave a free concert where proof of an AIDS test was required for admission. (Applause.)

Looking back on the past four years that I have been privileged to serve as Secretary of State, I can honestly say that I have derived my greatest satisfaction from the many waysthat we have been working in the Department to help build hope around the world.

At the core of so many of the challenges we face at home and abroad is a loss of hope, especially among young people, whether they are in impoverished communities right here in the United States, or in the Middle East, or in fledgling democracies going through difficult transitions, or working their way into the developing and to-be-developed world.

For a world of hope is a world where thugs and traffickers and tyrants and terrorists cannot thrive.

A human heart full of hope is such a very powerful force for good. And that brings me to this evening and to our honorees, our very distinguished Kennedy Center Honorees.

Joan Sutherland, Elton John, Warren Beatty, John Williams, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, through your art, you spark minds, you stir hearts, you touch souls, and by so doing, you also help to create the stuff of hope, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Anyone who has ever heard Joan Sutherland sing cannot help but to have felt the glory of the human soul a spirit capable of great love, great strength and great achievement. In her art and in her personal life, Joan Sutherland has demonstrated that same indomitable spirit.

I like to surf the Internet, and this afternoon surfing the Internet to learn more about our honorees, I came across a fascinating interview that Dame Joan once gave describing her technique for "supporting the voice." She explained how a singer learns to "support the voice" from deep within so as to project it with power and sustain it to maximum effect.

The same goes for foreign policy in a democracy. Foreign policy must derive its strength from values held deep within the core of a nation if that policy is to have the reach and the staying power needed to be effective. My hope is that all of us who practice the art of diplomacy will apply the technique as well as Joan.

For six decades, Joan Sutherland has reached deep within herself and given the world the gifts of her stupendous talent and of her equally great and generous spirit. We honor you, Joan, for the beauty you have created. That beauty will resound as long as people have ears to hear, hearts to beat, and souls to rejoice. Thank you, Joan. (Applause.)

Now, Joan, I must confess that I'm a little more familiar with popular music -- (laughter) -- than with classical opera, and so it gives me pleasure to honor Elton John, a rock opera star, and the composer of so many iconic songs over the last three plus decades.

I play Elton's music on my airplane as I travel around, my kids play his music, and my grandkids belong to The Lion King generation. I can't possibly begin to list all of Elton's hits or to do justice to all of his accomplishments, we'd be here all night, but there is one song of Elton's that is a true favorite of mine. It isn't Candle in the Wind, it isn't Rocket Man, it isn't Don't Go Breaking My Heart, it's not Sad Songs. It's a wonderful song that's perhaps not as well known as all of the others, but it means something special to me.

About 18 years ago, I was a commander of an Army corps in Germany, the Fifth United States Corps, and I had 75,000 wonderful American soldiers under my command and our mission was to guard the border, to guard the Fulda Gap against what was then the Soviet Army. And on my desk I had a picture of the Soviet commander who was just on the other side of the border waiting to attack me.

And so this was real for us, and for all of my soldiers. Suddenly along came this song. It's called Nikita. And Nikita was an East German border guard in the song, and a wonderful video -- Elton did a wonderful video of this song -- and it so captured what we were about in Germany at that time.

And in the video, Elton is sitting in this magnificent Rolls-Royce or a Bentley red convertible -- (laughter) -- and every day he goes up to the border trying to cross, and this East German border guard, an officer who was knock-out, drop-dead gorgeous -- (laughter) -- by the name of Nikita, would keep him not only from crossing the border but crossing into her heart. (Laughter.)

And so every day in the winter, Elton in this Rolls Royce would drive up to the border and sing this song to his beloved Nikita:

"Hey Nikita is it cold In your little corner of the world? You could roll around the globe And never find a warmer soul to know.

"Oh I saw you by The Wall, Ten of your tin soldiers in a row, With eyes that looked like ice on fire, The human heart a captive in the snow.

"Oh Nikita you will never know anything about my home. I'll never know how good it feels to hold you. Nikita I need you so!"

And the song goes on and it ends with these two stanzas:

"Do you ever dream of me? Do you ever see the letters that I write? When you look up through the wire, Nikita do you count the stars at night?"

And then finally:

"And if there comes a time Guns and gates no longer hold you in, And if you're free to make a choice, Just look toward The West and find a friend."

My troops listened and watched that on Armed Forces Radio and Television every day, over and over. And it was a few years later, in 1989, on a bright November evening, that Nikita and all the other Nikitas were free, finally, to make that choice when the Berlin Wall fell in a triumph of the human spirit. The guns and gates no longer hold in the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

They chose freedom and just like in Elton's song, they have found friends here in The West, ready to help them as they work to achieve their highest hopes for a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.

Elton's humanity shines through all of his music in so many ways, and well beyond the music itself. His generous efforts to combat HIV/AIDS have saved countless lives, eased great suffering and given those afflicted and affected by this terrible disease a reason to have hope. It is fitting that we honor Elton John tonight, as World AIDS Week draws to a close.

Due to Elton's contributions to the musical arts and to humankind, thousands upon thousands of people he will never meet will "Feel the Love Tonight." We thank you, Elton. (Applause.)

Now, as the first American Secretary of State who happens to be an African American, it always gives me a special pleasure to honor a brutha. (Laughter.) I don't mean Ossie Davis. I mean My Man Bulworth. (Laughter.) Warren Beatty, The Rapper. Warren has made so many magnificent movies, but the one that is of greatest interest to me is a political movie called Bulworth, where he played a senator who is running for re-election, and it was a wonderful movie that he co-wrote-- the Academy Award-nominated film he played a major role in as well as Senator Jay Billington Bulworth.

In the course of the move he suffered a variety of breakdowns, a nervous breakdown, he turned suicidal, all kinds of strange things happened, and in the course of this breakdown he started to tell the truth in a manner that no politician ever should. (Laughter.) And what made it even worse, in the course of the move he started to tell it in rap. So throughout the whole movie my man Warren is doing this rap thing. (Laughter.) And he just goes rapping and rapping and rapping, and it's just terrific. But I want you to know, Warren, that you're not the only rapper here tonight, My Man. (Laughter.) Are you ready? (Laughter and applause.) My Man, Jay Billington Bulworth.

"I'm Colin Luther Powell. Public service is my thing. Don't do it for the fame. Don't do it for the bling.

"Harlem Globe Trottahs Got nuthin' on me. Been everywhere That a brutha can be.

"Been a soldier, Brass stars on my shouldah, Ran JCS an' NSC, Hung it up, 'stablished a char-i-tee,

"Came back into office as Secretar-ee. (Applause.) And what comes aftah this Y'all jes' Hafta wait an' see."

"Represent!"

(Laughter and applause.) "It's about Warren, not me." (Applause.) "Represent, My Brutha." "Represent." (Laughter.)

Warren Beatty's lifetime of -- (laughter). Let's get serious now, okay? (Laughter.) Warren's lifetime of breakthrough work in front of and behind the camera has given audiences not just an awareness of the fading splendor in the grass, but for the enduring splendor of the human spirit as it confronts love and loss, challenge and truth.

Sometimes Warren does it with a dollop of shampoo, sometimes with a dose of satire. But always, always, he does it with excellence and flair and canny insight into the tenor of the times and empathy for the human condition. Warren, we thank you. (Applause.)

Through his inspired and peripatetic work as a consummate composer and conductor, John Williams has brought the joy of symphonic music to untold millions here and abroad. Even more remarkable, John has succeeded in fusing together our visual and aural memories.

Our mind's eye cannot conjure the man-eater from Jaws without John's suspense-packed score, or think of Star Wars without his soaring overture, or Schindler's List without his haunting melodies or the Olympic Games without his triumphal theme.

It occurs to me that we could use that kind of talent here at the State Department. Many's the time we launch a big initiative with far-reaching significance, but no trumpets sound. No drums roll. There's no string section to signal what we're doing to help millions of people.

You need to relax, John, I'm not going to hit you up for some free work. (Laughter.) All of this is just my way of saying that what you do so incomparably well is to capture the essence of a compelling story and convey that story unforgettably to the public. John, thank you for striking a chord in our hearts and enriching our lives with your beautiful music. Thank you. (Applause.)

In the military, we often use the term "force-multiplier". The meaning is easier to illustrate than it is to explain. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, each in his or her own right, constitutes a powerful artistic force. But when they work together as a team, now that's a force multiplier for you.

And come next Thursday, December 9, their wedding anniversary, they will have been multiplying forces for 56 years together. (Applause.)

Ossie and Ruby have combined forces for the arts, to be sure. They also have been a joint force for civil rights, for social justice, and for our young people, helping our young people to acquire the tools they need to succeed in the performing artsas well as to succeed in life.

In the early 1990's at the annual Memorial Day concert on the National Mall, it's been my privilege sharing the stage with Ossie Davis and having him introduce me for my remarks. It's usually rained on that occasion, but we wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

On behalf of all Americans, and especially our veterans, I thank you, Ossie, for your deep dedication to our fallen heroes. I vividly remember the year that I followed Ossie to the stage and I started to do my remarks and the teleprompter stopped rolling halfway through my script. I don't know about the rest of you actors, but for me this was a rather shocking discovery to see a blank teleprompter.

So I had to wing, make up on the scene, in front of an audience of 200,000 on the lawn and a viewing audience of 20 million people on PBS, I had to make up or try to remember as best I could the speech that I was supposed to give. Thank heavens they couldn't tell flop sweat from raindrops on me. (Laughter.) But with Ossie, who was standing there ready to bail me out, it went just fine.

Later, I asked the technicians what went wrong with the teleprompter, and they said: "Well, you know, we checked it out before you started and we were running a little late, so we just cut you." (Laughter.) "But why didn't you tell me?" "Oh, nobody told you?"

As you know, Ruby Dee first became a star for her leading role as Ruth in the wonderful Lorraine Hansberry play,A Raisin in the Sun. We all remember Langston Hughes's powerful poem "Dream Deferred": "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"

Ossie's and Ruby's work, both artistic and civic, has been dedicated to ensuring that our country delivers on the American dream, delivers on that dream to our fellow citizens whose hopes have long been deferred whose hopes must no longer be left to dry up like a raisin in the sun.

Ruby once wrote to Ossie: "There is a magnetism about those who love, who know things, who see, who make connections, and are committed to the struggles for the wider victories in the world."

Such is the magnetism of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. For over five decades, Ossie and Ruby have been a force on the American stage and in the larger theater of our national life.

They have entertained us, they have challenged us, and they have inspired us by their artistry and with their example. Ruby and Ossie, victorious, I thank you for all you have done for us. We appreciate your excellence. We thank you for your passion. We thank you for your abiding commitmentto your art, your commitment to each other, and your commitment to building a better America and a better world. Thank you. (Applause.)

All God's children want to live in freedom and dignity, to provide for their families, to have a chance at happiness. And tonight, we can be proud that America, Australia, the United Kingdom and other free nations across the globe are working with friends and former foes to build a world of hope.

On behalf of President and Mrs. Bush, on behalf of the men and women of the Department of State, and on behalf of the American people, I wish to thank Joan Sutherland, Elton John, Warren Beatty, John Williams, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee for their lifetime contributions to the performing arts, and for using their God-given gifts to lift the spirits of men and women everywhere on earth. Thank you. (Applause.)

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce someone who puts the "Kennedy" in tonight's Kennedy Center Honors. Senator Edward Kennedy embodies the same spirit of commitment to the advancement of the arts that animated his brother, President Kennedy, and continues to define the entire Kennedy family.

That spirit lives, night after night, in the beautiful sights and sounds that fill the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Having Ted here at the State Department is also significant because of his countless contributions to America's global engagement.

Ted's conviction that America is a tremendous force for good in the world has always moved him to seek solutions to some of the world's greatest challenges. From his efforts to promote peace in Northern Ireland to his firm resolve to fight against HIV/AIDS, Ted is an inspirationto all who stand for freedom and who stand for human dignity.

Ted, you and I have worked together for many decades now, and I have always valued your willingness to transform compassion and concern into actions that alleviate suffering. The United States and the international community are truly grateful for your principled statesmanship these many years.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege and my honor to introduce a respected leader, an important ally of American foreign policy, and a good friend of mine -- Senator Ted Kennedy.

(Applause.)

2004/1327

[End]

Released on December 6, 2004


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