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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 29, 2001
Remarks by the President in Honor of Black Music Month
The East Room
3:20 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Well, thank you all very much, and welcome to the White House, the people's house. It is my honor today to sign a proclamation celebrating Black Music Month, and also to welcome some of the finest entertainers in America to the people's room. (Applause.) People who brought a lot of joy and heart and energy to the American scene. Folks who have enriched our country's culture. And so, Laura and I welcome you here. And thank you for coming.
I also want to thank Debbie Allen, our MC, who will be making sure that -- (applause.) And the members of Congress who are here. I want to thank our entertainers who are going to entertain today who are here. I want to thank some of the entertainers who entertained me who are here -- James Brown, the Four Tops -- (applause.)
We're honoring all-stars today. I want to welcome the student honorees, Danielle Weatherford, Regina de Ocampo, and Lauren Dawson, who are here on the stage with me. I want to thank you all for being here. (Applause.) I want to thank Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. (Applause.) I want to welcome representatives of the industry, producers and directors who are here, as well. Thank you all for coming.
This is an appropriate place to host an event, right here in the East Room, because so many of the world's great artists have preceded us. And we're also welcoming the talent of a new generation who I just introduced.
Let me talk about some of the music legends who are here on the stage. First, I'm so thankful that Shirley Caesar and Bobby Jones are here. (Applause.) Their voices are a part of a ministry that has had a profound effect on people's lives. It is fitting we honor gospel music in the White House and in our country. (Applause.)
Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson are honorees, and they are unable to join us today. But they sang some sweet music for the American people. (Applause.) And finally, Lionel Hampton is here, and it's such an honor. (Applause.) Laura and I are honored to welcome him to Washington, just like Harry and Bess Truman did, when he played at their inaugural ball in 1949. The Johnsons, the Nixons and the Reagans all invited Lionel here as well. Presidents come and go, but there's only one "Vibes" President of the United States. (Applause.)
Lionel Hampton is an old friend of our family's, going all the way back to my dad's boyhood. On a couple of occasions, he and my grandfather did a few numbers together. My grandfather was quite a singer, as Lionel would tell you. And, as Laura would tell you, the gene pool didn't spread this far. (Laughter.)
A lot of other greats have passed through the White House, including America's ambassador of goodwill, Louis Armstrong. (Applause.) In this room, Pearl Bailey was introduced to Mikhail Gorbachev by Ronald Reagan, who said, simply, "This is our Pearl." (Laughter.) Eubie Blake played ragtime piano on the South Lawn. And these chandeliers, I can assure you, trembled when Ella Fitzgerald sang here. (Applause.) It was here that Duke Ellington received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was a fitting tribute to the son of a White House butler. (Applause.)
Today we pay homage to an American tradition, a tradition that only America could have produced. Spirituals, jazz, R&B, hip-hop are performed, heard and loved in every part of the world -- every part of the world. But they belong to our country in a unique way. And as the President of this country, I'm proud to herald that uniqueness today. (Applause.)
You trace the roots of black American music, you arrive at the same place -- with the people held in bondage, denied schooling and kept away from opportunity. Yet, out of all that suffering came the early spirituals, some of the sweetest praise ever lifted up to heaven. In those songs, humanity will always hear the voice of hope in the face of injustice.
Since those early days, the music of black Americans has told many other stories, in many other styles: Scott Joplin to Jellyroll Morton; from Marion Anderson to Aretha Franklin; from Nat King Cole to the Neville Brothers; from Dizzy Gillespie to Sam Cook; Kathleen Battle to Gladys Knight, from James Brown to the Four Tops. (Applause.) It is music that is always easy to enjoy, yet impossible to imitate.
Stories told about Louis Armstrong -- someone came up to the legendary giant one day and asked him to define jazz. They wanted to understand it, so they came to the master, himself. And he replied, "Man, if you've got to ask, you'll never know." (Laughter.)
Well, there's some things I know today. I know America is a richer place for the musicians and the music that we honor today. Again, I welcome you to the White House. And it's now my honor to sign the executive proclamation. (Applause.)
3:27 P.M. EDT