Biden hosted the Kennedy Center honorees at the White House on May 20, spending an hour with Joan Baez, country musician Garth Brooks, dancer-choreographer-actor Debbie Allen, violinist Midori and actor Dick Van Dyke as part of the week-long celebration.
The television broadcast of the event, which was postponed from December because of the pandemic, airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS.
“Jill and I had the pleasure of hosting the 43rd class of the Kennedy Center honorees at the White House,” Biden said in the video. “We did so as ordinary fans of their extraordinary work that touches the soul of our human experience. And we did so as your president and first lady, recognizing how art touches the soul of America.”
Although a White House reception had been a traditional part of the Kennedy Center Honors, President Donald Trump did not host any during his term, nor did he attend any of the annual events.
The Bidens did not attend last month’s Honors performances at the Kennedy Center, which were capped at 250. Kennedy Center officials had requested that the president tape a video message about his visit with the honorees, but the breadth of his support for the arts came as a surprise, an arts center spokeswoman said.
Biden’s video came a week after his first budget proposal called for a record-setting $201 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal arts agency.
“As part of a great tradition in our country, Jill and I will continue to celebrate and appreciate the critical role arts play in our nation,” he said. “We look forward to working with art and cultural organizations in big cities, small towns and rural communities, to make art more accessible for people at every age and every background, to lift up more voices and stories.”
“To the 43rd Class of Kennedy Center honorees and to artists all across America, thank you for your vision. Thank you for touching the soul of our nation.”
Because of the pandemic, this version of the Kennedy Center Honors was filmed over five days in and around the arts center last month. Kelly Clarkson, Gladys Knight, Pentatonix and Yo-Yo Ma were among the all-star lineup who paid tribute to the five artists.
Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter, who is traveling this week, said in an email that Biden’s remarks reflect the spirit of the annual celebration.
“The president’s moving words, shining a light on the importance of the country’s artists and their vision, strike at the heart of the joyous spirit we all felt with this year’s Kennedy Center Honors,” she said. “It truly marks a return to the arts for both organizations and artists, who have continued to inspire us as a nation, despite the deep hardships they have faced during the past 15 months. We are also grateful for the generous amount of time President Biden and the first lady spent with this year’s very special Honorees.”
Biden’s statement resonated beyond the national arts center.
“President Biden’s words are so significant, recognizing the role art will play culturally and economically in rebuilding our communities in the aftermath of the pandemic,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association, said in an email. “More importantly, there is action behind his words. His recent proposal for record-breaking NEA funding means more middle-class arts jobs in large and small communities in every state. We fervently hope Congress will support his historic vision.”
The Kennedy Center Honors will air Sunday at 9 on CBS.