The Clintons the belles of the balls

By STEPHEN Buel  |  Jan. 21, 1993
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WASHINGTON -- Ushering a new generation into power on the dance floor and with his saxophone, President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary stormed through 12 separate inaugural balls Wednesday night and into the early morning.

Starting their evening at a ball commemorating the winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and closing the night at one dedicated to the states of Hillary's midwestern home, the Clintons visited every official inaugural ball and, surprisingly, managed to stay on schedule in the process.

The Clintons danced a brief inaugural dance to the recorded strains of Tony Bennett singing 'It Had To Be You' at all but one of the balls -- the youth-culture MTV Ball -- where instead they introduced their daughter Chelsea on stage.

Crediting the popular music video channel with having 'a lot to do with the Clinton-Gore victory,' the president promised to return the favor by supporting the so-called 'Motor Voter Bill.' Once vetoed by Clinton's predecessor, the bill would make it easier for unregistered voters to go to the polls in future elections.

'I want you to know that I still believe in 'Rock the Vote,'' Clinton said, alluding to an MTV-backed voter registration drive. 'We're going to have motor voter registration.'

Before the night was over, Clinton had traded saxophone licks with some of the greats of American pop music, including Clarence Clemons, the legendary 'Big Man' of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Clemons and Clinton engaged in a form of dueling saxophones, matching impromptu riffs to the standard 'Night Train,' at a ball sponsored by celebrants from New York City and Washington, D.C.

All in all, Clinton picked up his tarnished tenor saxophone at five stops, delivering several impassioned and accomplished solos, his red cheeks flushed with exertion.

'He's great,' Clemons told reporters after his memorable sax collaboration with the president, which Clinton seemed to relish every bit as much as Clemons himself. 'I was nervous.

'It's good to know that he has something to fall back on in case this presidential thing doesn't work out.'

By the end of the evening, crowds at every stop chanted 'Play the sax! Play the sax!' The president often obliged, although by night's end both Clintons were visibly fatigued.

'We got no sleep last night, and we're still standing,' Clinton told a midwestern audience.

'You want to see us dance? You should be glad we're standing up. I mean, this is a miracle; we're defying gravity.'

Most of the 12 balls were organized around regional lines, and at every stop, Clinton thanked his audience for the particular efforts that they and their states provided during the long presidential campaign.

He asked every crowd of celebrants, each numbering in the thousands, to carry the night's memories with them for a lifetime.

'I hope that all of you have taken as much pride and joy in this week as we have,' Clinton said at one ball, in a variation on comments he made throughout the night.

'And I hope that today at noon, when I was sworn in, you felt that you had something to do with it, because you did.'

As might have been expected, the Clintons spent the longest time at the mammoth Arkansas Ball, the evening's largest and most star-studded.

The president urged his Arkansas friends to party all night before Sixties crooner Ben E. King handed him a saxophone and joined him in a rousing rendition of the Kenny Loggins composition 'Your Mama Don't Dance (and Your Daddy Don't Rock & Roll), which had a pointedly generational significance for many in the crowd.

Following the performance, Clinton's Arkansas supporters ushered him into history with a thunderous 'Wooooo Pig Sooey!,' the official fight slogan of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

Clinton sported an elegant but simple black tuxedo, while Hillary was outfitted in an elaborate violet dress and cape designed by New York fashion designer Sarah Phillips. Consisting of several levels, the dress featured a fitted bodice and was draped with an elegant, long-sleeved lace top, festooned with iridescent crystals and beads.

The president made a point of complimenting his wife on her dress at each and every stop throughout the evening, eliciting wild cheers from the crowd each time. During the couple's first dance of the evening, a button or snap at the back of the first lady's dress popped open, revealing nothing but unexpectedly cutting short the dance in mid-song. By the next ball, the clasp had been repaired.

At a so-called 'Youth Ball' for 18- to 35-year-olds at the U.S. Post Office Pavillion, the boisterous audience chanted 'Hillary' over and over until the first lady made her own brief remarks of thanks.

The Clintons were joined by Vice President and First Lady Al and Tipper Gore at the ball honoring recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, at which some 130-odd medal recipients were joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell as well as Clinton's designates to the number one and number two posts in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gore noted that the choice of the veterans' ball as the first ball of the evening was intentionally meant to send a message to veterans about the consideration they'll receive at the hands of the new administration. After visiting this first ball, the first and second families separated for the rest of the evening.

The musical selection at the balls varied dramatically in style, but was of uniformly renowned, ranging from rockers 'Soul Asylum' and '10,000 Maniacs' at the televised MTV Ball to an all-star jazz orchestra including pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Thelonious Monk, Jr. and bassist Ron Carter at the so-called National Ball, a high-culture soiree for many of Clinton's highest-dollar campaign contributors.

The Clinton's comments were translated into sign language for deaf celebrants at every ball.

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