For the first fund-raising event in its history, the Library's Jefferson Building shone as brilliantly as its guests from the worlds of entertainment, sports, the media and other high-powered professions.
About 400 guests raised more than $800,000 at the Oct. 7 festivities that launched the Library's bicentennial in 2000. The evening's proceeds will benefit the Bicentennial Fund and support educational outreach programs and the National Digital Library.
Madison Council members James Earl Jones, Katharine Graham, Jerry Jones and Chairman John Kluge joined broadcaster Jim Lehrer, singer Mary Chapin Carpenter and Gen. Colin Powell in the celebration of "Creative America," as the evening was billed. The Great Hall and Main Reading Room were handsomely decorated with trellises of ivy and topiary trees. Green damask covered tables on the lower level while the same fabric in cranberry covered the tables and chairs on the mezzanine, where the guests ate beautiful food and listened and danced to the music of the Lester Lanin Orchestra.
LC staff who were invited to the event and who worked as volunteers also looked their most elegant, with men in black tie and women in evening dresses.
The event began with a reception line of Dr. and Mrs. Billington; Mrs. William Cafritz and Mrs. Alyne Massey, the co-chairs of the event; the event's underwriters: Texaco Chairman Peter Bijur, Bell Atlantic CEO and Madison Council member Ray Smith and General Motors Executive Vice President and General Counsel Thomas Gottschalk; John Kluge, chairman of the Madison Council; and Edwin Cox, Madison Council vice chairman. Cocktails were at 7 in the Main Reading Room and were followed at 8:20 by the inaugural performance in the newly restored Coolidge Auditorium.
James Earl Jones, whose unmistakable baritone is known to millions, presided. "Welcome to the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress," he said. "It is fitting that we begin our bicentennial celebration in this auditorium of world-renowned acoustics with the words and creativity of America. ... Every word you will hear tonight is preserved in the Library." One of the world's finest acoustic environments, the Coolidge Auditorium, a 485-seat concert hall, has hosted many of the century's most noteworthy performers. It begins its 1997-98 season on Oct. 30, with a concert by the Juilliard String Quartet.
Mr. Jones then introduced actor Avery Brooks, who began by reading a Sept. 21, 1814, letter from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Smith in which the third president offered his books to Congress following the burning of the Library's collections in the U.S. Capitol by the British.
Mr. Brooks and actress Zoe Caldwell alternated with readings. Ms. Caldwell read letters of four first ladies, beginning with Abigail Adams's July 19, 1799, letter to her sister. Mr. Jones called Adams "the first public American feminist."
That was apparent, when reading from the letter Ms. Caldwell said, "If man is lord, woman is lordess." The audience agreed as it broke into applause.
When Ms. Caldwell read the June 8, 1968, letter from Jacqueline Kennedy to Leonard Bernstein, she assumed the delicate voice of the first lady, who thanked Bernstein for the music he had written for the funeral of Robert Kennedy: It was "the most beautiful music I had ever heard. ... Your music was everything in my heart. ... Will you tell your noble orchestra how many people cried?"
Abraham Lincoln's wrath was palpable as Avery Brooks dramatized a letter the president had written on July 14, 1863, in which he berated Gen. George Meade for his failure to end the Civil War sooner. The letter, however, served only as a way for Lincoln to vent, as he never sent it. "Lincoln had no one to replace him," said Mr. Brooks.
A missive from choreographer-dancer Martha Graham to composer Aaron Copland was especially fitting, as Appalachian Spring was commissioned by the Coolidge fund and premiered in the auditorium in 1944. "I realize how fortunate I am to work with you. ... It is so beautiful," wrote Graham.
"Creating is not limited to the arts," said Mr. Jones. "Scientific minds have also left their work at the Library." The audience burst into laughter as he announced he would read from the diary of Alexander Graham Bell. "I can't resist the temptation to read this."
"Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you," the first words spoken into a telephone resonated from the lips of Mr. Jones as he read Bell's diary entry of March 10, 1876.
American popular song was on the lips of opera singers Marilyn Horne and Jerry Hadley. From Jerome Kern, Mr. Hadley sang "All the Things You Are"; from Cole Porter, Ms. Horne's mezzo soprano offered "In the Still of the Night."
After Mr. Brooks read a letter from Jerome Kern, who wrote "Show Boat," he offered a stunning version of "Ol' Man River" that was met with thunderous applause.
Mr. Brooks then reminded the audience that much of the Library's collections were built through copyright deposits, and he retold the story of two "contributors whose legal battles were about copyright": Groucho Marx and Warner Bros.
Warner Bros., the producer of the film "Casablanca," accused the Marx Brothers of copyright infringement because they wanted to make a film of the same name. The audience roared as Mr. Brooks read Groucho's letter asking Warner whether the word "brothers" was also copyrighted. "Professionally we were brothers before you."
"I am sure the average person could distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo," he wrote. "I am not sure that I could, but I would like to try."
The performances concluded with a duet by Ms. Horne and Mr. Hadley of Irving Berlin's "Call Me Again." When Mr. Hadley flubbed his entrance into the song, Ms. Horne finally interrupted him. "Jerry, c'mon. We're gonna do it right," she said, insisting that they start again. That time he did do it right, and Ms. Horne hugged him at the end. As they left the stage, Mr. Hadley feigned embarrassment at his gaffe.
"These gifts from America's archives," Mr. Jones said, showcase "the variety and uniqueness of America's creative genius."
The volume of the applause left no doubt that everyone had thoroughly enjoyed the performances. After guests had settled at their tables for dinner on the mezzanine of the Great Hall, Dr. Billington toasted their support, saying: "The Library of Congress has been blessed by the generosity of benefactors since its earliest days, most especially the U.S. Congress. Congress, through its annual appropriations of U.S. taxpayer funds, has steadfastly supported the Library since its founding in 1800."
He was also referring to the underwriters of the Oct. 7 event, as well as to the guests who had each contributed $2,500. Many of those guests were members of the Library's private sector support group, the James Madison Council, headed by Mr. Kluge.
Mr. Kluge, president of Metromedia, recognized the efforts of Mrs. Cafritz, Mrs. Massey and the vice chairs of the event. In addition, he acknowledged the honorary vice chairs: John F. Cooke, Mrs. Charles A. Dana Jr., Katharine Graham and Gen. Colin Powell. He also thanked the performers who had provided the evening's entertainment and gave a special nod to the millions of "creative talents" whose collections are among the Library's more than 112 million items.
His remarks were followed by those of Ray Smith of Bell Atlantic, who gave "thanks for this great institution." Mr. Gottschalk said, "We at GM join with you as supporters of the Library's richness and the diversity of its collections." Mr. Bijur said, "Texaco is extremely honored to help launch this national celebration of the bicentennial of the Library of Congress."
Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, was represented by Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio), who praised "this great library" for its efforts to share its resources as widely as possible.
The evening also included tours of "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," the Library's first permanent rotating exhibition. This popular show will be featured in a one-hour television special on Sunday, Nov. 16, at 10 p.m. The program, of the same name and funded by Xerox as well, will include interviews with many Library staff members and will air on PBS stations nationwide.