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29th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Dinner - Rice

Remarks at the 29th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Dinner

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
December 2, 2006

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Good evening and welcome to the Department of State. I am so pleased to host this esteemed and wonderful and fun crowd here at the Department. I'd like to recognize Steve Schwarzman, who is the chairman of the Kennedy Center. Steve. (Applause.)

I'd like you to know that we believe very strongly in the power of the arts and culture to bring people together and so we have joined with the Kennedy Center as a partner in a global cultural initiative. And thank you very much, Steve, for helping to spearhead that partnership. Steve's support of the arts dates all the way back to his college years. And many of you, like me, will be impressed to know that Steve actually founded a Yale ballet society. Now he has since said that that was because he wanted to meet girls. (Laughter.) I think, though, it has translated into a real love of the arts. And with his wife, Christine, his wonderful partner, they have done so much for this organization, so thank you, Steve and Christine. (Applause.)

For almost 30 years, the Kennedy Center Honors has recognized the world's best and brightest, the creative talents who have made lasting contributions to the performing arts in America. It's my great privilege tonight to welcome each of this year's honorees: Zubin Mehta, a magnificent maestro, born, as they say, to the baton. In 1954, on one of his first days outside of his native India, he heard the Vienna Philharmonic play Brahms. "I didn't know such a sound existed," he said. I feel the same way about Brahms, my favorite composer. Unfortunately, I'm still struggling on the piano to bring that sound into existence. It's all the more reason to appreciate and love the work of Zubin Mehta. Thank you, maestro, for your contributions. (Applause.)

Dolly Parton, what a talent. This little girl from Tennessee hills, who became a businesswoman, a movie star, a philanthropist, and of course, the songstress who put country music into the popular ear and on the popular radio and she did it all with unique charm and wonderful wit. She once said, "I'm not offended by all those dumb blonde jokes, because I know I'm not dumb and I know I'm not blonde." (Laughter.) (Applause.) Well, Dolly, we know you're plenty smart. And as to hair color, every woman in this room will agree that that should be a matter of classified State secrets. (Laughter.)

Smokey Robinson. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the poet laureate of soul music and one of my personal favorites. I grew up on R&B and I still love listening to Smokey. In fact, the first concert that I ever went to and by the way, my first date was to a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles concert. My father went along. (Laughter.) I suspect he just thought there was too much power in Smokey's soul. (Laughter.)

Steven Spielberg. From hits like Jaws and E.T. to Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, he has pioneered the big picture blockbuster. But more than that, he's taken us into parts of the world and into characters that, without him, we would never know. He has focused his moral lens as well to show the world the universal virtues of compassion and courage and he's highlighted American patriotism. Thank you, Steven Spielberg, for your wonderful contributions. (Applause.)

Andrew Lloyd Webber. From Cats to Jesus Christ Superstar to The Phantom of the Opera, his musicals have captured the imaginations of millions, including yours truly. And he's made the most popular theater composer of all time our dear friend. His work, whether it's haunting or upbeat, it's music that a listener can leave, having listened to and always remembering. He's also the only Kennedy Center honoree to ever have a hit reality show. (Laughter.) Thank you, Andrew Lloyd Webber, for your contributions. (Applause.)

Like many of you, I'm just a lover of the arts, a fan, if you will. I can thank my parents for that, particularly my mother who gave me an early love of the arts with recordings of Mozart when I could barely stand up, with a recording of Aida that I remember at age five with my little eyes as big as saucers as the triumphal march was played, piano lessons at age three and on and on and on. They encouraged me to love the arts and they encouraged whatever talents I had.

Now sometimes, they also encouraged talents that I clearly didn't have. When I was about seven, my father wanted me to perform in my elementary talent show -- elementary school talent show, so he hired the drama teacher at the local high school to give me tap dancing lessons. (Laughter.) And then he bought me a little costume and I danced to "Sweet Sue." Needless to say, this was not one of the high points of my life. (Laughter.) But on the day of the show, there was my dad, all six-foot-two, 250 pounds of him standing at the side of the stage to make sure that nobody laughed. (Laughter.) Nobody laughed. In fact, everyone applauded. And I'm happy to say that now, since I'm Secretary of State, I have diplomatic security to make sure that you all applaud, too. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

Seriously though, the Kennedy Center Honors is one of my favorite events of the year because it's a time to celebrate the many ways in which art and music bind us together not just as Americans, but in the broader human community. This is especially fitting in a year when two of our five honorees are foreign citizens. Though we human beings speak different languages, come from different cultures, and hail from different lands, we share the same fundamental aspirations for freedom and equality, for truth and justice and beauty. These are not American ideals or Western ideals. They are universal. And what makes America great is not the idea of power, but the power of ideals.

Our nation's greatest source of strength has always been the force of our principles, our abiding belief that American society is enriched by our diversity and that we welcome the contributions of all people from any nation. America's artistic life reflects the diversity of the American experience and it reflects our debt to almost every culture and nationality on earth. It is, therefore, totally fitting that our honorees span that great diversity of American culture and of our debt to other nations.

It is also the case that the arts flourish most when they are practiced in a democracy. Indeed, throughout history, there have been many, many attempts by totalitarians and tyrants to control the arts. And one wonders why they cared so much what artists did, why the period of socialist realism in art in the Soviet Union, the place that I studied, for so much of my life. Well, because you see, they understand the power of the arts. They understand the power of the arts to give expression to the human spirit, they understand the power of the arts to give expression to human freedom. And to them, that is a threat. But in a democracy where creativity and innovation come only from the human spirit, not from some plan, the arts flourish.

And so it is perfectly fitting that in this room, named after one of America's great Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, we honor these great artists who have honored us with their talent and their creativity and their ability to make the human spirit soar.

Thank you, Steven Spielberg, Smokey Robinson, Dolly Parton, Zubin Mehta and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Thank you for the extraordinary joy and inspiration that you have given to millions and thank you for helping the human spirit to soar.


Released on December 4, 2006


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