The President. Well, good evening, everybody.
Audience members. Good evening.
The President. Welcome to the White House. Michelle and I love this event. Everybody looks so nice. [Laughter] This is one of our favorites. And as Lily used to say, that's the truth. [Laughter] Now, I—as a President, I cannot stick out my tongue. That might cause an international incident.
But I want to start the evening by thanking David Rubenstein and the Kennedy Center Trustees and the Kennedy Center's new President, Deborah Rutter. Where's Deborah? Yay! I want to thank George and Michael Stevens, who produce this event every year. Lately, they've won an Emmy for it just about every year as well. So we are very proud to have them here. In fact, Michelle and I call this the "Stevens season." [Laughter]
President Kennedy once wrote, "The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose—and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization."
I think Tom Hanks will agree that President Kennedy was probably envisioning "Joe Versus the Volcano" when he wrote that. [Laughter] Although, I have to say, "Big" was on last night. And that—you know, so things balance out. [Laughter] But it's clear that the group on stage with me tonight understands what President Kennedy understood: that our art is a reflection of us not just as people, but as a nation. It binds us together. Songs and dance and film express our triumphs and our faults, our strengths, our tenderness in ways that sometimes words simply cannot do. And so we honor those who have dedicated their lives to this endeavor: those who have tapped into something previously unspoken or unsung or unexpressed; those who have shown us not simply who they are, but who we all are; those who are able to tap into those things we have in common and not just those things that push us apart.
Now, I'm going to start with somebody who I know all of you think about whenever I sing, and that's Reverend Al Green. [Laughter] I've been keeping his traditions alive. [Laughter]
Audience member. Do it again. Do it again.
The President. No, I'm not going to do it again. I'm not going to do it. [Laughter] No. No. That was, like, a one-time thing. My voice didn't crack. It was a fluke. I can sing a little, but I cannot sing like Al Green. Nobody can sing like Al Green. [Applause] Nobody can sing like Al Green. That soul, that light falsetto. His music can bring people together. In fact, he says he can hardly go anywhere without a fan coming up to him, pulling out a picture of one of their kids, and telling him which one of his songs helped that child enter the world. [Laughter] I embarrassed the Reverend. Look at him, he's all, like, "Oh man. "[Laughter]
Al was born in Forrest City, Arkansas, one of 10 kids packed into a 2-bedroom house. In his early twenties, he signed with Hi Records and helped bring Memphis soul into the spotlight with songs like "Tired of Being Alone." Audience member. Mm-hmm.
The President. Mm-hmm. "Let's Stay Together," "Take Me to the River."
Audience members. Mmm. [Laughter]
The President. They're thinking about all those songs and how it brought people together. [Laughter] In the 1970s, he became a pastor at his chur ...
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