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OBAMA SALUTES KENNEDY CENTER HONOREES: President says Brubeck was his first jazz concert. Tells crowd ‘I’m the president, but Springsteen’s The Boss.’

*President Obama greeted this year’s crop of Kenendy Center Honors recipients at a special White House reception on Sunday.      

       Jazz great Dave Brubeck, rocker Bruce Springsteen, actor Robert De Niro, comic genius Mel Brooks and opera singer Grace Bumbry were lauded in the East Room of the White House by the president, first lady and about 300 guests, including Jack Black, Edward Norton, Matthew Broderick, Ben Stiller, Martin Scorsese and Philip Seymour Hoffman.      

        Obama told the story of how his Kenyan father took him to his first jazz concert nearly 40 years ago during a visit to Hawaii. The performer was Brubeck.       

       “I’ve been a jazz fan ever since,” said President Obama, crediting the pianist and composer with bringing jazz into the mainstream and transforming it with new rhythms. “The world that he opened up for a 10-year-old boy was spectacular.”      

       Guest Aretha Franklin recounted highlights from Bumbry’s career. As a 25-year-old singer, Bumbry broke racial barriers in 1961 when she was invited to perform in a production of Wagner’s “Tannhauser.” She would be the first black opera singer to appear at Germany’s Bayreuth, a shine to the composer’s work. Many conservative opera-goers were infuriated. But by the end of the performance, the audience applauded for 30 minutes and drew 42 curtain calls. Later, Jacqueline Kennedy invited Bumbry to sing at the White House.       

       Bumbry, 72, said returning to meet Obama for the award was the highest honor she has received.       

       “It tops all of them,” she said. “First of all it’s my country, and secondly it’s the greatest award we have in this country for the arts.”       

       The Kennedy Center Honors ceremony took place following the White House reception. The show will air nationwide Dec. 29 on CBS.