U2 superstar Bono and former President Bill Clinton joined forces at the 35th annual American Ireland Fund gala at Lincoln Center in New York on Thursday night for a good cause -- to promote music education for children in urban and rural areas throughout Ireland.
"I have said many times -- if I hadn't been exposed to music as a child I don't think I would have been president," said Clinton, who still plays his saxophone, but added that he realized at the age of 16 he wouldn't be able to make a career of it.
Bono was the special guest at the AIF gala, attended by more than 1,300 guests and raising $3 million to enrich music programs for children in Irish schools. U2 and the Ireland Funds have partnered on a multi-year initiative to bring musical training to Irish children, with U2 committing $7 million to the project.
Bono wowed the audience with stories of how he was introduced to music in his youth.
"I grew up in the northside of Dublin in the beleaguered sixties and seventies -- music meant everything to me," Bono recalled.
He also fondly remembered putting his ear as a young child to his grandmother's piano, and being mesmerized by the sound -- until she was forced to sell it because it took up too much room in the home. Bono wanted his parents to purchase the piano, but it didn't happen. The world's most famous rock star then took it upon himself to make music a permanent part of his life.
"My megalomania started at an early age," he laughed. "Everyone in my house was going to have to listen to me now!"
He said U2's lack of formal musical education led the band to create their own unique style because they were unable to copy anyone else's.
"Music," said Bono, "is another language in which to express yourself."
"The feeling from music," he added, "is liberating. It's the most liberating language of all."
Clinton appeared onstage immediately after Bono's speech to the audience, and he thanked the U2 front man for penning a piece on his behalf in the current issue of Time Magazine's Most Influential 100 list.
"When you're old and grey and you've got to compete with Lady Gaga," the former president laughed, "your only shot is to get Bono to write on your behalf!"
Clinton spoke fondly of his trips to Ireland and the 15th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire in the North, and urged Irish Americans to stay involved in the cause of peace and justice.
"I've never had a greater honor than to be involved in the Irish peace process," Clinton added.
Bono also talked up the positive aspects of his native land, which he acknowledged has been hit hard by the recession.
"We may be down, but we don't give up and we're coming back!" he said, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
Other notables at the AIF gala included the organization's long-standing chairman Loretta Brennan Glucksman, U2 manager Paul McGuinness, Riverdance composer Bill Whelan, actor and newly appointed Irish cultural ambassador Gabriel Byrne, U.S. economic envoy to Ireland Declan Kelly, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.