Anne Midgette reports.
White House dinners afforded opportunities to recognize and celebrate the importance of the arts and of artists. In November 1961 Pablo Casals, who had long declined to play his cello in public until democracy was restored in Spain, agreed to perform at the White House on an evening honoring Governor Luis Muñoz Marín of Puerto Rico. Kennedy said with emphasis in introducing Casals: "We believe that an artist, in order to be true to himself and his work, must be a free man."
Other dinners followed: for Igor Stravinsky; for the western hemisphere's Nobel prizewinners (whom Kennedy famously called "the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone"); for André Malraux (at which Kennedy began his toast by saying, "This will be the first speech about relations between France and the United States that does not include a tribute to General Lafayette"). And dinners in honor of visiting statesmen or monarchs always included artists and writers and entertainment of high quality The administration, Thornton Wilder said, had created "a whole new world of surprised self—respect" in the arts.