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Obama gets laughs at Kennedy Center Honors

By Brett Zongker

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Dec. 4 2011 5:31 p.m. MST

President Barack Obama makes remarks at a reception for the recipients of the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011.

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama in lauding the actors, musicians and others receiving Kennedy Center Honors Sunday night, also was looking for advice.

"Everybody likes him," Obama said of Yo-Yo Ma, one of the several artists honored. "You've got to give me some tips."

Obama noted that the cellist has appeared on Sesame Street and said, "I thought about asking him to go talk to Congress."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was home for less than 36 hours between diplomatic travels but found time to honor the artists.

On Saturday night, between her historic visit to Myanmar and a trip to Germany to discuss Afghanistan's future, Clinton hosted a dinner for some big names from Broadway, jazz, pop, classical music and Hollywood. Ma, Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Sonny Rollins and Meryl Streep also were saluted by Obama and their fellow artists with tribute performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

After visiting the isolated Southeast Asian country also known as Burma, Clinton said such U.S. artists have worldwide influence by using their freedom of creativity and expression.

"You may not know it, but somewhere in a little tiny room in Burma or even in North Korea, someone is desperately trying to hear you or to see you, to experience you," Clinton told the crowd. "And if they are lucky enough to make that connection, it can literally change lives and countries."

Entertainers who have gathered for the event include Stephen Colbert, Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, Anne Hathaway and others. A surprise lineup of stars will perform as part of the nation's highest honor for those who have defined American culture through the arts.

CBS will broadcast the show on Dec. 27.

Obama said each was receiving an award, not for a single performance but a lifetime of greatness. "Just to be clear, this doesn't mean that they're over the hill."

Drawing one of the loudest laughs of the evening, Obama made passing reference to Diamond's 70s-era wardrobe, saying, "Now, his shirts aren't as flashy as they used to be. I notice you're buttoned up all the way to the top."

Diamond said it's a "great coincidence" that his work is being honored in a show hosted by Caroline Kennedy. The song "Sweet Caroline" is a story about he and his former wife, but the name is Kennedy's, he said on the red carpet.

"I'm going to have to thank her for that," he said.

Obama said all the honorees felt the need to express themselves and share it.

"That's why we dance, even if, as Michelle says, I look silly doing it," he added to laughter.

In a toast to Streep on Saturday night at the State Department, writer Nora Ephron warned Clinton that the person who would someday play her on screen is the same woman who played Julia Child in "Julie and Julia" and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming "The Iron Lady." Streep stood up for a better look at the nation's top diplomat.

"It's inevitable," Ephron told Clinton, drawing big laughs. "You met her tonight, and I'm sure you thought she was charming, but she was just soaking you up."

Streep, 62, has made more than 45 movies and won two Oscars in a career spanning Shakespeare to ABBA with the movie "Mamma Mia!" For her part, Streep said she is in awe of the accolades.

"Look where we are, look who's here," Streep told The Associated Press. "It's overwhelming. I feel very proud."

While in Washington, she has also met with women in Congress to push for a National Women's History Museum because, "as you'll notice, we don't have one," Streep said.

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