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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 23, 1998
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                             The East Room

8:00 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I would say you gave a better speech for me than I played a song for you. (Laughter.)

Let me say to Lionel Hampton and this wonderful orchestra, to all of you who are here who made this evening possible -- LeVerne, thank you. Max Roach, thank you for coming -- all of us who have been your fans for so long are honored to be in your presence. Thank you, Reverend Jackson. Thank you all the members of Congress who are here. A very, very special word of thanks to two perfectly wonderful men and fellow travelers along the road of jazz music and progressive politics -- (laughter) -- John Conyers and Charlie Rangel. Thank you for making this evening possible. (Applause.)

You know, Hillary and I have loved many things about the opportunity to serve here, but maybe none more than the opportunity to share with America the great gifts of our artists. And this is a special night. Lionel Hampton is 90 years old this year. You should know that he has played for every President since Harry Truman. (Applause.) I was minus one when Harry Truman became President -- (laughter) -- so he's been at this a day or two.

It's been a long time since he joined Louis Armstrong and gave him a hit song and revolutionized jazz music forever. I was telling Hillary when Hamp was up there playing and singing, I said, you know, my ears are going, I can't even hear the pitch anymore -- and there he is, hitting the pitch. (Laughter.) All of you who've ever played or tried to sing, the idea that he hit the pitch is something. And they played magnificently tonight. They lifted our spirits, they lifted our hearts. (Applause.)

I am personally indebted to Hillary and Charlie Rangel and John Conyers for cooking this night up, and I think all of us are. And I just want to say that even though your real birthday was a few months earlier, what the heck, you only turn 90 once -- (laughter) -- and we think it ought to be a year-long celebration. (Applause.)

So I would like to ask the White House magnificent chef who does these things for us to bring Mr. Hampton a little gift in here. And I'd like to ask all of you to stand and join me in singing Happy Birthday to him.

(Crowd sings "Happy Birthday.") (Applause.)

END 8:04 P.M. EDT