- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined in celebrating the nation’s top artists receiving the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday while home for less than 36 hours between diplomatic travels.

Between her historic visit to Myanmar and a trip to Germany to discuss Afghanistan’s future, Clinton hosted a dinner Saturday for some big names from Broadway, jazz, pop, classical music and Hollywood. On Sunday, Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins and Meryl Streep will also be saluted by President Barack Obama and their fellow artists with tribute performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“Everybody likes him,” Obama said of Yo Yo Ma. “You’ve got to give me some tips.”

Obama noted that Yo Yo Ma has appeared on Sesame Street and said, “I thought about asking him to go talk to Congress.”

After visiting the isolated Southeast Asian country also known as Burma, Clinton said such U.S. artists have worldwide influence by using their freedom of creativity and expression. She said she met Burma’s leading comedian and hip hop artist, who have been banned from performing for years.

“You may not know it, but somewhere in a little tiny room in Burma or even in North Korea, someone is desperately trying to hear you or to see you, to experience you,” Clinton told the Kennedy Center crowd. “And if they are lucky enough to make that connection, it can literally change lives and countries.”

Entertainers who have gathered for the event include Stephen Colbert, Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, Anne Hathaway and others. A surprise lineup of stars will perform as part of the nation’s highest honor for those who have defined American culture through the arts.

CBS will broadcast the show on Dec. 27.

In a toast to Streep on Saturday night at the State Department, writer Nora Ephron warned Clinton that the person who would someday play her on screen is the same woman who played Julia Child in “Julie and Julia” and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming “The Iron Lady.” Streep stood up for a better look at the nation’s top diplomat.

“It’s inevitable,” Ephron told Clinton, drawing big laughs. “You met her tonight, and I’m sure you thought she was charming, but she was just soaking you up.”

Streep, 62, has made more than 45 movies and won two Oscars in a career spanning Shakespeare to ABBA with the movie “Mamma Mia!” For her part, Streep said she is in awe of the accolades.

“Look where we are, look who’s here,” Streep told The Associated Press. “It’s overwhelming. I feel very proud.”

While in Washington, she has also met with women in Congress to push for a National Women’s History Museum because, “as you’ll notice, we don’t have one,” Streep said. She is working with organizers to try to secure a site on the National Mall.

Emily Blunt, a co-star from “The Devil Wears Prada,” said Streep is unique for her devotion to her characters, taking on parts of their personas.

“It’s funny, I feel like when we were doing `The Devil Wears Prada,’ she definitely adopted a certain cool on set, sort of remained very much in this reserved territory,” Blunt said. “And then when my husband John (Krasinski) worked with her, she was playing a very vivacious, gregarious character, so she was just a ball of fun.”

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