Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at WETA's "In Performance at the White House"

November 30, 1998

The President. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, the American musical is one of our Nation's most beloved art forms. It's also one of the most encompassing. What other country can hum tunes from songwriters as varied as George Gershwin, Eubie Blake, Irving Berlin, Fats Waller, Cole Porter, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green?

And typical of our diverse Nation, the greatest excitement comes when America's various musical traditions intersect. When African-American, Jewish, and European classical traditions come together in the songs of George Gershwin, when Thomas "Fats" Waller and Andy Razaf mix the syncopation of jazz with the forms of popular musical theater, there is a new song in the world, a song that could only come from America.

Tonight we welcome to the East Room, from the musical theater, four artists who are at the top of their game. They have lent their voices to some of our most favorite American classics, and I'm sure they'll take American music to new heights in the next millennium, and hopefully in the next few minutes.

I think it's appropriate that we've gathered here in America's home because tonight we're going to hear what these terrific performers sing at home, with no one to please but themselves.

And now please join me in welcoming our emcee for the evening. I first met him after I saw his terrific performance in "City of Angels," for which he won a Tony. He won another Tony for his role in "Chicago" and sang at both my Inaugurations.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. James Naughton.

[At this point, the program, entitled "The Singer and the Song," proceeded.]

The President. Was this great or what? [Applause] Unbelievable. They were wonderful. Thank you all. Mr. Naughton, thank you. I think you have a whole new career, the "Righteous Father's Sons." [Laughter]

Well, it's been said that it's easier to understand a nation by listening to its music than by learning its language. Tonight we heard the energy, the excitement, the very soul of America.

I want to thank all of our wonderful performers, James Naughton, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jennifer Holliday, and Patti LuPone, and all the great musicians and arrangers who accompanied them. This was a very special night. They have given us a great gift.

Thank you all, and good night.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 7:50 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. The program was recorded for later broadcast on public television.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at WETA's "In Performance at the White House" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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