Wednesday, May 13, 2009

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE FIRST LADY AT POETRY JAM

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Hello, hello, hello. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Please, everybody be seated. It is a great pleasure to welcome all of you to the White House for an evening of music and poetry and spoken word -- (applause) -- from some of our nation's most gifted performers, both distinguished veterans and up and coming young talents.

We're here tonight not just to enjoy the works of these artists, but also to highlight the importance of the arts in our life and in our nation -- in our nation's history. We're here to celebrate the power of words and music to help us appreciate beauty, but also to understand pain; to inspire us to action, and to spur us on when we start to lose hope; to lift us up out of our daily existence -- even if it's just for a few moments -- and return us with hearts that are a little bit bigger and fuller than they were before.

The great jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, once said simply, "What we play is life." What we play is life. And that is what these artists do -- they express the joys and hardships of life and remind us how much all of us have in common. It's a great gift and a great responsibility. And we're honored to host them here at the White House tonight.

I now have the privilege of introducing the star of the show, somebody who brings a lot of poetry to my own life -- the First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA: Good evening. And again, welcome to the White House. We are so pleased to be hosting an evening of poetry, music, and spoken word. So you just want to clap -- (applause.)

Tonight's event is really just another way for us to open up the White House and once again make it the People's House -- to invite people from all different backgrounds to come and share their stories and speak their minds; for all of us to learn about different forms of communication and to be open to hearing other people's voices. For it is one thing for people to tell their stories in their own spaces, and quite another for those stories to be welcomed in this space.

Barack is President today because many people who thought their voices didn't matter or wouldn't be heard decided to show up on Election Day and vote anyway. And that's the beauty -- (applause) -- and that is the beauty of our democracy. And we have to remember that democracy is really, really big. It has room for lots of voices, which sometimes take us out of our comfort zones, but that's what makes it so meaningful.

And that's one of the reasons why I am so excited about tonight. Let me tell you, I have wanted to do this from day one -- the notion of standing in this room and hearing some poetry and spoken word. (Applause.) But it's important for us to remember that this White House is committed to maintaining this openness and making this place a place where all voices can be heard. And the President and I are so proud to welcome this group of talented performers and we're just excited to welcome this audience here tonight.

So please enjoy, have fun, be loose -- (laughter) -- and let's start the show. Thank you. (Applause.)
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