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Remarks at the 30th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Dinner

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
December 1, 2007

Good evening. Well, welcome back to the State Department for many of you and for those of you for whom it's the first time, it's a great honor to have you here. This is really my favorite event of the year. I love honoring our great artists and I'd really like to thank several people for their excellent work, particularly Steve Schwarzman, the Chairman of the Kennedy Center, and his wife Christine. (Applause.) I'd like to recognize our great friend, Michael, Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center. (Applause.)

Guests and distinguished dignitaries, through a State Department partnership with the Kennedy Center, we are expanding and deepening our cultural ties with nations around the world and we all owe a big thanks to the Kennedy Center and the Kennedy Center Board for this wonderful work that we are doing together in cultural diplomacy. But of course, tonight, we are all looking forward to the great evening that we will have tomorrow night and for that, I want to give a big thanks to George Stevens, who has produced this wonderful event every year. (Applause.)

While every Kennedy Center Honors is special, tonight is the 30th anniversary of our national celebration of the arts. For 30 years, we have gathered to recognize the extraordinary artists of our world. We gather again tonight to hail our nation's brightest creative minds and talents, artists who have left an unforgettable mark on the creative life of our nation and our world. We salute their invention and their originality and we reaffirm our support for the artistic principles they practice: imagination and integrity, independence, and courage.

It's an honor to welcome each of these visionary talents. Leon Fleisher, what a story. (Applause.) After tragedy caused you to spend 30 years as a left-handed master of the piano, the world was delighted when you returned when treatment restored your fingers. When I hear your passionate playing, your extraordinary skill, I'm reminded why people like me gave up the piano. (Laughter.) And I want you to know I'm a proud owner of almost every one of your recordings. And after the ceremony tonight, how would you like to get together and jam on the Brahms Second Piano Concerto? (Applause.)

Steve Martin, the renaissance man of the arts; comedian, actor, novelist, satirist, and let me remind everyone we are in the presence of one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world. (Laughter.) Everyone remembers Steve for King Tut and The Jerk and Father Of The Bride. And of course, everyone has a personal favorite and mine is one of his more obscure movies, The Housesitter. Steve, do you even remember The Housesitter? (Laughter.) Through all of your creative pursuits, you've made us laugh and cry and delight in the depth and the possibility of comedy in the arts. (Applause.)

Diana Ross. Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, was there any little girl who didn't love Diana Ross? But I didn't just love Diana Ross. I wanted to be Diana Ross. And there isn't a mountain high enough that Diana did not conquer. This daughter of Detroit went from singing in Baptist choirs to becoming the queen of Motown. She has what we call (inaudible) at her Motown distributor in 1966. She could definitely make it on her own and make it on her own, she did. (Applause.)

Martin Scorsese. This little son of Italy decided against the priesthood, but in films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and Goodfellas and The Departed, Martin Scorsese has illuminated the struggles between good and evil through his director's lens. Few other living filmmakers have had such a deep knowledge and appreciation for the canon of the cinema. You're revered for your artistry, but also for your help in helping to preserve the film treasures of forbearers, one of the most widely respected and well-loved working directors of our time, and who wasn't really happy and let out a cheer when the Academy finally gave you your due? (Applause.)

And Brian Wilson. I still remember how my college roommate, who was from California, used to play I Wish They Could All Be California Girls over and over and over. (Laughter.) But now that -- I understand why she loved California so much and now that I'm going to be a California Girl again pretty soon, I'm delighted to welcome you here tonight. Because as an L.A. Times reporter once said, the Beach Boys don't kid each other about making lasting contributions to American culture. Oh well, 40 years later, it's clear. Brian's contribution to American culture is great. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

We honor all of you tonight for the joy you've given us and for illuminating the possibility of art in its highest form. It's especially fitting that this room, the room we're gathered in tonight, is named for the consummate creative diplomat, Benjamin Franklin. That remarkable founding father, that champion of creativity and freedom and openness would surely have felt a kinship with our honored guests tonight who contribute so much to creative free expression in our world. It's impossible not to be awed when you consider the performers and their contributions to the vibrancy of art in the world.

Each and every one of you represents the breadth of cultural diversity in America and in the world, that you represent such different and extraordinary heritages, that you create space for such diverse stories and struggles and triumphs. This demonstrates how art can flourish in freedom and in democracy and how much all human beings really do have in common. We must all strive for a place where artists are free to share their gifts and hope without fear of persecution and I am proud to be here tonight in support of that ideal.

So thank you, Leon Fleisher and Steve Martin and Diana Ross and Martin Scorsese and Brian Wilson for helping to entertain and inspire millions of men and women, myself included. And on this lovely evening, we can all celebrate the joy that our honorees have given so many in the world and will continue to give for years to come. Now, I'm pleased to turn over the podium to Steve, who will formally inaugurate our celebration. Thank you.



Released on December 3, 2007

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