More than 50 years ago, the man after whom the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was named, the nation's 35th president, said the following: "The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose ... and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization." The United States Navy Band presents "John F. Kennedy: Celebrating 50 years of Diplomacy Through Culture," a two-part tribute on Sunday and Monday. These programs are part of the Kennedy Center's salute to the country's legendary commander in chief (who took the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol Jan. 20, 1961) and his wife, Jacqueline, whose passionate interest in the performing and fine arts helped to secure a national place for artistic presentation.

John F. Kennedy: Celebrating 50 years of Diplomacy Through Culture

If you go
» Where: Millennium Stage, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
» When: 6 p.m., Sunday and Monday
» Info: Free; 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600

Since 1925, the Navy Band has become associated through service with events of national and international importance. This most distinguished of musical organizations has participated in 21 presidential inaugurals and appears at national dedications and memorial services. Therefore, two separate programs have been compiled for the evenings' concerts taking place on Kennedy's Millennium Stage, both highlighting the Navy Band's commitment to the arts in diplomacy. Navy Chief Musician Michael Bays explains portions of each.

"We wanted to highlight the Kennedy's commitment to the arts by including something performed at the White House," he said. "We also wanted to capitalize on what we do as military musicians: ceremonial state arrivals, state dinners and diplomatic music."

To illustrate the above, he included a Francesco Cilia piece that was performed in the White House by Grace Bumbry in 1962. A Frederick Loewe composition, "Almost Like Being in Love," from the Broadway show "Brigadoon" not only calls to mind JFK's favorite musical but also commemorates the song as one of the many performed by Navy musicians sent to Berlin in the 1960s who were charged with the task of dispelling negative Soviet propaganda.

"What we try to highlight in both of these programs is really the power of music to win hearts and minds," Bayes continued. "The second night's show ... is the jazz contribution to diplomacy, the importance jazz played in shaping a positive American image abroad."

Works here include the music of Billy Strayhorn ("Take the A Train"), Dave Brubeck ("Take Five") and Duke Ellington ("Love You Madly.") These and more were heard on the Voice of America program during the Kennedy administration.