The guests at yesterday's National Heritage Fellows awards were waiting for Hillary Rodham Clinton to stop by. The room was crowded, the bottles of juice and water disappearing, and the honorees already had their citations and were balancing them on their laps or against their chairs.

Then Bill Ivey, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, invited fiddler Bob Holt, one of the honorees, to fill in the gap. The audience, packed into a room in the Rayburn House Office Building, loudly applauded the idea.

Holt, a lean man who has been playing a traditional square dance fiddle for 50 years, took off his gray jacket and settled into a folding chair. At that moment, Hillary Clinton appeared and Holt snapped his fingers in a crackling darn-it gesture.

Later Holt said everything was okay because he hadn't decided what to play. "I never think ahead. I used to try to have some kind of program in my head. Then I was spending all my time trying to remember what I was going to play," said Holt, who lives in Ava, Mo. When the guests first arrived, Holt had played "Missouri Waltz" and "Leather Britches."

Good-natured feelings dominated the morning ceremony, in which the endowment honored 13 people for practicing and preserving traditional arts.

The recipients, in addition to Holt, are Frisner Augustin, a Haitian drummer based in Brooklyn; Lila Greengrass Blackdeer, a Hocak Indian basketmaker and needleworker from Black River Falls, Wis.; Shirley Caesar, a renowned African American gospel singer from Durham, N.C.; Alfredo Campos, a cowboy braider from Federal Way, Wash.; Mary Louise Defender-Wilson, a Dakotah-Hidatsa storyteller from Shields, N.D.; dancer James "Jimmy Slyde" Godbolt, known as the "Grandfather of Tap," of Hanson, Mass.; Ulysses "Uly" Goode, a Western Mono basketmaker from North Fork, Calif.; Zakir Hussain, a North Indian tabla drummer from San Anselmo, Calif.; Elliott "Ellie" Mannette, a steel drum builder and player from Morgantown, W.Va.; Mick Moloney, an Irish folk musician from Philadelphia; Eudokia Sorochaniuk, a Ukrainian textile artist from Pennsauken, N.J.; and Ralph W. Stanley, a builder of wooden boats from Southwest Harbor, Maine. Each honoree will receive $10,000.

At the lectern, Mrs. Clinton said the fellows' arts contribute essentially to the American character. "The president and I have a favorite quote from one of America's great philosophers, Dizzy Gillespie. He once said of Louis Armstrong, the legendary jazz trumpeter who had gone before him, 'Know him, know me.' Well, I say to these 13 National Heritage Fellows we honor today, 'Know you, know us.' . . . You represent the traditions, the cultures, the diversity of who we are as Americans."

The honorees will perform and discuss their work at a free concert tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Lisner Auditorium.