- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

What does it take to make $3 million in a single night — besides months of planning?

All the elements of success were in place Sunday at the Kennedy Center’s 15th spring gala, which drew 1,200 patrons to its annual five-hour-long funding fete. Clear skies and sunshine allowed for cocktails on the terrace, hosted by the likes of commuting Chairman Stephen Schwarzman and a beaming President Michael Kaiser.

“Today is Duke Ellington’s birthday,” volunteered pianist Billy Taylor, overseer of the institution’s jazz events. His remark seemed to be another good omen for the performing-arts citadel. “We’re doing as much or more than Lincoln Center, and they are copying us,” he noted with pride.

Then it was time for dinner indoors — lavishly decorated in purple lilacs and wisteria blossoms, followed by high-energy entertainer Harry Connick Jr. and his big-band sound with New Orleans soul. “We’re about as white trash as you can get,” the fast-talking, slippery-limbed Mr. Connick joked, swinging with fervor into such old favorites as “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey,” and “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” and asking the audience for continued help in rescuing his beleaguered home city from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

The only quiet moments in the Concert Hall were when Mr. Schwarzman, speaking with the aid of a teleprompter, hailed the center’s vision (“programs to ignite the human spirit”) and called Mr. Kaiser “unique” as head. The New York-based financier (“If I’m not here, I work”) also asked for a moment of silence to commemorate Mstislav Rostropovich. “Slava,” as he was known to National Symphony Orchestra musicians and patrons when he was the principal conductor for 17 years, died at age 80 last week in Moscow.

Familiar faces in attendance included former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma; Brookings Institution head Strobe Talbott; former congresswoman and vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro; Inter-American Development Bank President Alberto Moreno; Red Cross Chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter; Sen. Ted Stevens; Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson; Ethel Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith; Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy; and former Kennedy Center Chairman Jim Johnson. Betsy and Dick DeVos served as this year’s gala co-chairs.

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