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William J. Clinton: Remarks at the VH1 Concert of the Century
William J. Clinton
Remarks at the VH1 Concert of the Century
October 23, 1999
Public Papers of the Presidents
William J. Clinton<br>1999: Book II
William J. Clinton
1999: Book II

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The President. Well, I don't know how much longer we have on the commercial break, and I don't own this network, so I could really get the hook. [Laughter]

But let me thank you and thank all the artists. And I've got all this stuff to say on the teleprompter at the end, but I just want to tell you why I did this. I still remember Miss Lucille Rutherford, who taught me to sing, and George Grey, who taught me to play the clarinet and the saxophone; my two junior high school band directors; and my wonderful high school band director, Virgil Spurlin. And I don't think I would have become President if it hadn't been for school music. And that's why I did this. And I thank you. Thank you.

[At this point, the program continued.]

The President. Thank you, Robert DeNiro, for the introduction, for your friendship, for your fabulous movies. [Laughter]

Let me thank all of the wonderful performers who have graced this stage today; they have blessed our lives and all of America who has heard them. Let's give them all a big hand one more time. [Applause] We respect and honor them for their talents and their knowledge of music. But we also respect what they have given us tonight. I respect them so much, I left my saxophone up in the White House. [Laughter]

But we have had another wonderful lesson this afternoon, thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts, which is supporting our country's living cultural heritage; and VH1, the Save The Music Foundation, preserving our musical traditions. The most important lesson we've had is that what we've seen in stunning brilliance tonight should at least be a possibility in the lives and the minds of all of our children.

Music education is very important to me. When I was a young boy, as a school musician, I started at 9 with Ms. Lillian Rutherford and George Grey learning to sing and play. I learned that music was more than scales or keys or how to make sure I was always in tune. Music taught me how to mix practice and patience with creativity. Music taught me how to be both an individual performer and a good member of a team. It taught me how to work, always to bring mind and body and spirit together, and the beauty of music.

And so for all my teachers, for the ones I mentioned, for my junior high school band directors, Carol Powell and Joel Duskin, for my wonderful friend Virgil Spurlin, who taught me in high school, some are still with me, some have gone on to their reward, I want to say again, I don't think I would be President if it hadn't been for school music.

And I am very grateful to John Sykes, to VH1, to all the wonderful stars and performers who are here tonight, because they want to give all our young people that same opportunity to learn, to achieve, to express themselves, and to develop their math brain cells. [Laughter]

This century has been called the American Century. It gave rise to democracy around the world. For the first time in history, more than half the world's people are living under governments of their own choosing. So we gave that to the world. But at the same time, we mustn't forget that America brought the world the rhythm of jazz, the consolation of country, the hard truth of the blues, the excitement of rock and roll. And the diversity of our music and our musicians—which we have seen tonight— mirrors the diversity of our people and reminds us of the greatest lesson we have always to teach and always to learn, that we are stronger when we're playing in harmony, based on our common humanity.

A stunning example of that is the great American songwriter George Gershwin, a Jewish boy from New York who wrote the magnificent black opera, "Porgy and Bess." He listened to others. And he once said, "True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans, and my time is today."

Let us promise that we Americans will keep American music and the spirit it represents, inspiring our children and their children as we enter the new millennium.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 5:30 p.m. in a tent on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to John Sykes, president, VH1, who presented the President with a guitar signed by the artists who performed in the program entitled, "Concert of the Century for VH1 Save The Music." The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of the First Lady.
Citation: William J. Clinton: "Remarks at the VH1 Concert of the Century," October 23, 1999. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=56785.
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