The “Ordinary, Extraordinary People” Interview
Click here for Part 1
By Kam Williams
CR: [Chuckles] Oh yeah, I know that piece by Scherzo. It’s a very difficult one. I play a lot chamber music, and I’m currently learning the three Schumann Fantasy Pieces which I plan to play at a benefit concert in Maryland with a good friend of mine from Boston who’s a professional cellist. It’s for a great charity which puts good instruments into the schools. The only playing I do in public these days is for charity concerts like the one that I did for the Queen of Soul to get music into our schools. I think it’s just horrible that music programs are disappearing. As for something that’s hard for me to play, Tommy, before I leave this Earth I’m hoping to play Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto.
KW: Harriet asks, “What was it like playing backup for Aretha Franklin? You looked so great at the concert grand when you were accompanying her and so comfortable when you were playing your solo. Have you ever speculated on what your life might have been like, or might be like, as a concert pianist?
CR: Oh, that’s a really good question. First of all, it was really wonderful playing with Aretha. I knew that she knew what she was doing, so all I had to do was sit in the background and vamp a little bit. [Laughs] I didn’t have to worry about that part of the program. But playing Mozart was far more challenging, because I hadn’t played with an orchestra since I was 18 years-old. It was a great experience, but I had to work very hard t prepare for that. Sure, I’ve speculated about what my life might have been like as a musician, but I’m afraid I came to the conclusion that I probably would’ve either been teaching piano or maybe gotten to play at Nordstrom’s department store.
KW: Harriet notes that, “Wendy Wasserstein once explained to her mother how hard it was to have a relationship after she’d won the Pulitzer Prize. What kind of man is out there who can maintain a relationship of equals with a Secretary of State?”
CR: Oh, I think there are plenty of men out there who are capable and accomplished in their own realm. You don’t have to be in the same field. I’ve often been asked, “Didn’t you want to get married?” And of course I wanted to get married, but you have to fall in love and want to marry a particular person. You don’t get married in the abstract. So, although there were people I felt I might have married, it just never happened.
KW: Wise guy Jimmy Bayan asks, “Are you dating anyone? C’mon, ‘fess up! Who’s the lucky guy? You can say. You’re a private citizen now!”
CR: [LOL] I am, Jimmy, and I believe in having a private life, too, so I’m not going to answer that question.
KW: Tommy observes: “You say you always hoped to marry within your race. Can you answer honestly, Ms. Rice, about your perception of the number of eligible African-American bachelors in your circle? Is there a dearth of black men?
CR: Well, of course, all of the statistics say there are fewer eligible black men in my circle. But I’ve never thought of it that way. I believe that if the right person came into my life that would have been terrific. When I said I had always hoped to marry in my race, I really do mean that. That doesn’t mean I absolutely wouldn’t marry outside of it, but there’s a culture and traditions to maintain, and I have great pride in them, and I always thought it would be wonderful to share that with somebody of my race.
KW: Movie theater manager Malik Hayes says, “Some time ago, there was talk of you possibly becoming some type of advisor to a sports franchise. Did that ever materialize?”
CR: Well, it hasn’t yet materialized that I went into sports management, but I haven’t ruled it out yet, either. I only half-jokingly remarked that I’d love to be the commissioner of the NFL. But as I recently told current Commissioner Roger Goodell, that job looked a lot more appealing when I was struggling with the Russians and the Iranians everyday. Now, from Northern California, it looks a lot tougher. And it’s a job that he’s handling very well, by the way.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman, asks, “What do you think you can do about improving the quality of the early care and education system in the United States, especially as it relates to young African-American children in the inner cities?”
CR: I think all of us have really got to redouble our efforts, first of all, to pay attention to the K-12 crisis. The sad fact is that I can look at your zip code and tell whether you’re going to get a good education. That’s not fair. And secondly, I hope that all of us who were fortunate enough to have benefited will put our time, our resources and our efforts into making sure that kids, particularly kids without means, have a way to achieve.
KW: Reverend Thompson says, “You are a model of success to so many. Do you see yourself as a role model?”
CR: I know that people look at my life and ask, “How can I achieve some of those things?” So, I suppose in that sense, yes, I’m a role model. But I try to think of myself more as a mentor, as somebody who I hope young people feel comfortable approaching or writing to. I get letters from kids from all over the country. I always try to answer them because there were people I looked up to in my youth and just wanted to be in contact with. It’s also important to realize that you find your role models in a lot of different places. I’ve never believed that your role models have to look like you. You can find them in all sort of colors, shapes and sizes.
KW: PJ Lorenz asks, “What was it like for you, as the first African-American woman to become Secretary of State?
CR: I was very proud and grateful to be the first African-American woman in the position. I thought it said a lot about our country that we had back-to-back African-American Secretaries of State, Colin Powell and then me. I also thought it said a lot about President Bush that he didn’t see limits on the highest ranking diplomat in terms of color. It’s a hard job, but really the best one in government.
KW: PJ adds, “After leaving office, reflecting back on those times, what if anything, would you have done differently, and is there anything that you feel particularly proud of, for having achieved?”
CR: Well, there are many things, whenever you look back, that you would’ve done differently. We’re all human. We do our best at the time. I really wish that we had passed a comprehensive immigration bill because that would’ve really helped our country. We came close, but we couldn’t. I wish that after the war against Saddam Hussein we had been more effective at rebuilding Iraq quickly. I think had we done it from the provinces, in, rather than from Baghdad, out, we might have been more successful. I’m very proud that President Bush took on AIDS relief. It was the largest single response by any country to a major international health crisis, and there are millions of people who are alive today in Africa and other developing countries because of that program. And I’m very proud that we stood for the proposition that no man, woman or child should ever have to live in tyranny. We believed in democracy and promoted it.
KW: AMC exec Keith Kremer says, “I’m curious to see what your report card is for President Obama since he’s occupied the Oval Office.”
CR: Oh, I don’t think it would be fair to grade him because I believe our Presidents work hard and it’s the loneliest job in the world. I may not agree with everything, but our President, just like President Bush did, is trying to do his best under difficult circumstances.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
CR: Oh, I think I’ve been asked just about everything. [LOL]
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
CR: Sure. I’m not personally fearful, but I look out, and there are a number of things that concern me, and I’m hopeful that we can overcome them.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
CR: Very, I’m happy and content in my life, and I chalk that up to wonderful parents and a wonderful God.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
CR: Laughs] I laugh almost everyday. I have a good sense of humor, so I’m always finding something funny.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
CR: I just finished the biography of Benjamin Franklin by my friend, Walter Issacson. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/074325807X?ie=UTF8&tag=thslfofire-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=074325807X
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
CR: I was listening to some Motown while exercising.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
CR: Fried chicken, and by the way I’m good at it, too. I make really good fried chicken. [Giggles]
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
CR: I have several, but I like to wear Akris, Oscar De La Renta and Giorgio Armani.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
CR: It would be that no child would ever feel that the American Dream is denied them.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
CR: My parents.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
CR: A very fortunate and blessed person who still has a lot of living to do.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
CR: Rebelling when my parents tried to send me to first grade when I was 3.
KW: The Boris Kodjoe question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
CR: That I’ve found my place in life, that I’m passionate about it, that my talents and my passion have merged, and that I’m trying to do the best that I can.
KW: Well on that note, let me say congratulations on finding your place, and the best of luck with the book and all your other endeavors.
CR: Thanks so much, Kam.