Remarks at a White House Concert Featuring the Works of Jerome Kern

 

October 18, 1987

 

Thank you all for a wonderful concert. Nancy asked me to tell you how very sorry that she is that she can't be here tonight. I know how much she would have particularly loved this romantic evening of music. And you've proven something I've always suspected: that when you hear a great tune, and you aren't quite sure who wrote it, you could guess Jerome Kern and 9 times out of 10 you'd be right.

 

When Jerome Kern died in 1945, one of my predecessors in this job, Harry Truman, said about him: ``His melodies will live in our voices and warm our hearts for many years to come, for they are the kind of simple, honest songs that belong to no time or fashion.'' Well, he was right, of course. And 40 years later a Presidential proclamation pointed out that: ``New generations of audiences of all ages and backgrounds have taken Kern's melodies to heart and given them a permanent place in our American musical heritage.'' And that is a direct quote from, well, from me -- [laughter] -- when a joint resolution of Congress declared that Jerome Kern was the ``Father of the American Musical Theater.''

 

Kern was not content just to write songs. Like many men of genius, he wanted to take what he knew and raise it up, make it more significant, establish a higher standard for everyone who would follow. He had great faith in the intelligence of the American people and the power of the stage. He wanted to go beyond the old-fashioned musical revues and bring forth a vigorous new art form, a story told in music. The songs would come honestly from the plot. They would fit the characters' motivations. Integrity of the form is what he sought, and he pursued it throughout his life. He was dedicated to that integrity and, yes, he lived to see it realized. Jerome Kern's devotion to this new art form gave inspiration to the next generation of composers and helped bring forth the musical theater now recognized all over the world as distinctly and joyously American. As for Jerome Kern himself, he lives on in the beauty of his songs.

 

So, to all of you: Thank you for a truly splendid evening. And I spoke to Nancy earlier this evening, and she wanted me to say she sends you all her very best. And so do all of us.

 

Note: The President spoke at 5:58 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. The performers included Barbara Cook, Roberta Flack, Johnny Mathis, and Doc Severinsen. Marvin Hamlisch was the director and master of ceremonies. The concert was taped for the ``In Performance at the White House'' series by the Public Broadcasting Service for later television broadcast.