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Remarks on the 10th Anniversary of National Public Radio's "Performance Today"

November 03, 1997

Thank you very much, Martin. Ladies and gentlemen, as you can hear I'm still a little hoarse, but I'm delighted that you're here, and I'm delighted to be here. And I thank you for mentioning the biggest thrill I've had lately, the opportunity to conduct the National Symphony. Actually, I have been used to dealing with the Congress for so long now, I was surprised that they followed my lead. [Laughter] But we got through it just fine.

Welcome. The first concert held in this magnificent house was on New Year's Day, 1801, when President John Adams invited the Marine Band to play. In nearly 200 years, there have been a lot of other concerts here. More than a century ago, President Chester Arthur inaugurated the first concert right here in the East Room. And 20 years later, Theodore Roosevelt made showcasing the world's finest musicians in this room a standing tradition. Pablo Casals was among the first artists Theodore Roosevelt invited to perform, in 1904.

It was more than 50 years later that the concert to which Martin referred at the outset of the performance tonight occurred, when Casals came back for another East Room performance when President and Mrs. Kennedy lived here. This was made even more momentous, of course, by the fact that his performance was enjoyed not simply by Cabinet members and diplomats gathered in the room but by Americans of all walks of life who could tune in on their radio stations and hear the concert.

Hillary and I are very proud that we're able to continue this fine tradition tonight to have the finest of music, from classical to jazz to opera to gospel, with all Americans. We're honored to celebrate with you the 10th anniversary of "Performance Today." It has been an extraordinary effort by National Public Radio. In just 10 years "Performance Today" has become an important part of the lives of so many of our fellow Americans—1.5 million Americans in more than 200 communities listen to "Performance Today" every single week, and I know its audience will surely grow. If every American could hear what we heard tonight, there would be a fire sale on radios throughout America and everyone would want 10 or 20 more.

We want to do what we can to continue to support the young musicians we've heard tonight—and I consider them all young. [Laughter] Even 50 is young to me. [Laughter] As part of our White House Millennium Initiative, we'll host a series of cultural showcases shining a spotlight on the next generation's most promising musicians, celebrating their great American creativity. Who knows what great musicians and composers will enliven our concert halls and airwaves in the 21st century—the next Marsalis or Graves or Roberts or Galway or Perahia or Ngwenyama? And thank you, young lady, by the way, for sticking up for the National Endowment for the Arts, as well. We appreciate you very much.

All of these great performers who have been here tonight have made us feel a little more alive, a little more human, and a little more noble. We thank them. And perhaps the best way we can honor their gift to us tonight is by resolving to celebrate the gifts of the future, both in the White House and on "Performance Today," for many, many years to come.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Martin Goldsmith, host of NPR's "Performance Today" program; and musician Nokuthula Ngwenyama.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the 10th Anniversary of National Public Radio's "Performance Today" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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