Remarks Before the Concert by Nicole Taylor and Daniel Ernst at the House of Hungarian Heritage

Good evening!  I am so pleased to be here tonight and to welcome our distinguished guests – Nicole Taylor and Daniel Ernst.  Ms. Taylor has established herself in the United States and internationally as an artist of extraordinary talent, with an extensive repertoire covering a vast variety of styles and genres.   Her accompanist, Mr. Ernst, is a brilliant pianist, and a U.S. diplomat also – he serves as the Press Attaché at our U.S. Embassy in Prague.  This artistic duo has already gained an international reputation and shined in several countries in the Middle East and Europe.

Before we all sit back and enjoy their performance, I would like to say a few words about what makes this concert all the more special.  In February, we mark African American History Month, sometimes called Black History Month.  Throughout February, we celebrate the lives and achievements of Americans of African ancestry who have made indelible contributions to our nation, even before we were a country.  We celebrate artists, scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, writers, doctors, diplomats, musicians, academics, military leaders, astronauts – there is not a single field of endeavor in which African Americans have not made a significant contribution to our country.

Together, we also take this opportunity to honor all the civil rights activists and leaders who worked together to ensure that successive generations of African Americans have more equal access to opportunities.  As we all know, this work is far from being done, and we still face significant challenges in achieving our goal of racial equality in the United States.  But we can celebrate our progress so far and we realize that, as President Obama said, “Our country is at its best when everyone is treated fairly and has the chance to build the future they seek for themselves and their family.”  I think the President’s statement applies even more broadly — every country is at its best when all its citizens are treated fairly.

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is particularly appropriate that we are doing so through music.  Music and musicians played a special role in bringing down racial barriers in the United States — before, during, and since the height of the Civil Rights movement.  It is impossible to imagine American culture without the contributions of African American musicians and songwriters.  Today, Negro Spirituals are a significant part of many singers’ repertoire, irrespective of the artists’ ethnic background, and they influenced most other genres of the American music.  And as we enjoy the concert tonight, let’s reflect on the many contributions of African Americans, and honor their legacies.  Thank you.