Remarks Following the "Salute to Lionel Hampton" Jazz Concert

September 10, 1981

Aren't we glad that we grew up in the era of the big bands? [Applause] Pearl, I don't know why, but as time has gone by I just appreciate old folks more than ever. [Laughter]

I'm going to remind her of a little something -- I wasn't supposed to say this -- that she might not remember. But some years ago, there was a young fellow that at age 21 had just a meteoric rise and skyrocketed in show business. The Friar's Club in Los Angeles was giving a testimonial dinner -- a banquet, one of their famous roasts -- to this young man. The biggest stars in the entertainment world were all there to entertain and to perform, and he was having a great time at the gathering before the dinner, mingling and so forth. Pearl was sitting over there, and I went over there and sat down beside her, and we watched this for a minute. And then the words of wisdom that have always characterized her came out. She turned to me and said -- this was before we all had to go on in this big, star-studded evening -- and she said, ``I wish he were half as scared as I am.'' [Laughter]

Well, I think this has been a treat, Lionel, that Nancy and I will long remember, and I think we're speaking for everyone here when we say that.

What makes it really special is that it was all put together to honor a truly great American, Lionel Hampton. And the gathering here on the South Lawn of the White House is more than appropriate. This house, I've said before, belongs to the people of the United States. And it's fitting that a man who has contributed so much to the enjoyment and cultural betterment of his fellow citizens should be honored here.

Lionel stands for what's best about America. With raw talent and hard work he became one of the most respected men in American music. I understand when back in his younger days, before he went on to the vibraharp, the older musicians liked to play in groups with Lionel because he was a good-time drummer -- he knew how to keep a beat. Well you know, Lionel, I don't think you've missed a beat in all these years. And this happens to be especially true when it comes to courage and decency. This man has always been an example for all of us. He's used his talent and his energy tirelessly, to advance the cause of brotherhood. And I think his strength of character and integrity come through in his music.

Of course, he's a real institution here in Washington. He played for the inaugural celebrations of six Presidents, and Nancy and I are happy that last January we happened to come in under the wire as number six. [Laughter]

When I was discussing this event with one of our fellows here on the team, he said, ``Lionel Hampton -- why he has played with all of the greats.'' And I said, ``My friend, he is one of the greats.'' [Laughter]

There are many ways that people make contributions to their country. What you've given to America over these many years can never be taken away. What you've done is make this country a happier place and, I think, speaking for all of us, it's deeply appreciated.

Tonight, as you enjoy yourselves, all of you and those wonderful performers who have been up here with you and those that you introduced in the audience, at the Kennedy Center, the hearts of your fellow citizens are with you, hearts that are a little lighter because of the music you've provided.

Now, I'm going to stop making a speech because, unfortunately, the clean air board wouldn't give us permission to light the barbecue -- [laughter] -- so you're all invited inside for refreshments. Please join us in there.

Note: The President spoke at 6:30 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House, where the Lionel Hampton Ensemble performed jazz variations of the past, present, and future. They were joined by other entertainers, including Pearl Bailey, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Woody Herman, Stephanie Mills, and Charlie Pride.