Kennedy Center Honors

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Kennedy Center Honors
Kennedy center honors logo.svg
Logotype symbolizing "a spectrum of many skills within the performing arts"
Awarded forLifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.
Presented by Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center
First awarded1978
Website Kennedy Center Honors
The 2006 honorees at the Kennedy Center on December 6, 2006, with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush; from left, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Steven Spielberg, Dolly Parton, Zubin Mehta, Smokey Robinson, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Second lady Lynne Cheney Kennedy center honors 2006.jpg
The 2006 honorees at the Kennedy Center on December 6, 2006, with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush; from left, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Steven Spielberg, Dolly Parton, Zubin Mehta, Smokey Robinson, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Second lady Lynne Cheney

The Kennedy Center Honors is an annual honor given to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture. The honors have been presented annually since 1978, culminating each December in a star-studded gala celebrating the honorees in the Kennedy Center Opera House. [1]

Performing arts art forms in which artists use their body or voice to convey artistic expression

Performing arts refers to forms of art in which artists use their voices, bodies or inanimate objects to convey artistic expression. It is different from visual arts, which is when artists use paint, canvas or various materials to create physical or static art objects. Performing arts include a range of disciplines which are performed in front of a live audience.

Culture of the United States culture of an area

The culture of the United States of America is primarily of Western culture (European) origin and form, but is influenced by a multicultural ethos that includes African, Native American, Asian, Polynesian, and Latin American people and their cultures. It also has its own social and cultural characteristics, such as dialect, music, arts, social habits, cuisine, and folklore. The United States of America is an ethnically and racially diverse country as a result of large-scale migration from many countries throughout its history. Many American cultural elements, especially from popular culture, have spread across the globe through modern mass media.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts United States national cultural center in Washington, D.C.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is the United States National Cultural Center, located on the Potomac River, adjacent to the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., named in 1964 as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy. Opened on September 8, 1971, the performing arts center is a multi-dimensional facility: it produces a wide array of performances encompassing the genres of theater, dance, ballet, and orchestral, chamber, jazz, popular, and folk music; offers multi-media performances for adults and children; and is a nexus of performing arts education.



George Stevens Jr. created the Kennedy Center Honors with the late Nick Vanoff, and produced the first gala in 1978. He was the producer and co-writer through the 2014 awards, [2] after which he sold the production rights to the Kennedy Center.

George Stevens Jr. American film director

George Cooper Stevens Jr. is an American writer, author, playwright, director and producer. He is the founder of the American Film Institute, creator of the AFI Life Achievement Award and instigator/producer of the Kennedy Center Honors. Since 2009 he has served as Co-Chairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Accolades to date for his professional career include seventeen Emmys, eight Writers Guild awards, two Peabody Awards, the Humanitas Prize and an Honorary Academy Award.

Nick Vanoff was a dancer, producer and philanthropist.

The Kennedy Center Honors started in 1977, after that year's 10th-anniversary White House reception and Kennedy Center program for the American Film Institute (AFI). Roger L. Stevens, the founding chairman of the Kennedy Center, asked George Stevens Jr., (no relation), the founding director of the AFI, to hold an event for the Center. George asked Isaac Stern to become involved, and then "pitched" the idea to the television network CBS, who "bought it." With the announcement of the first honors event and honorees, CBS vice president for specials Bernie Sofronski stated: [3] [4]

American Film Institute Nonprofit educational arts organization devoted to film

The American Film Institute (AFI) is an American film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.

Roger L. Stevens American theatre manager

Roger Lacey Stevens was an American theatrical producer, arts administrator, and real estate executive. He was the founding Chairman of both the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1961) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1965).

CBS is an American English language commercial broadcast television and radio network that is a flagship property of CBS Corporation. The company is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City with major production facilities and operations in New York City and Los Angeles.

George [Stevens] came to us with this. What turned us on is that this is the only show of its kind. In Europe and most countries, they have ways of honoring their actors and their athletes. England has its command performances for the queen. We see this as a national honoring of people who have contributed to society, not someone who happens to have a pop record hit at the moment ... Our intention is not to do just another award show. We're going to make an effort in terms of a real special.

The first host was Leonard Bernstein in 1978, followed by Eric Sevareid in 1979 and Beverly Sills in 1980. Walter Cronkite hosted from 1981 to 2002 and Caroline Kennedy hosted from 2003 until 2012. Glenn Close hosted in 2013 and Stephen Colbert hosted from 2014 to 2016. [5] [6] There was no formal host in 2017, though Caroline Kennedy delivered an introduction. In 2018, Gloria Estefan hosted.

Leonard Bernstein American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist

Leonard Bernstein was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the U.S. to receive worldwide acclaim. According to music critic Donal Henahan, he was "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history."

Eric Sevareid American journalist

Arnold Eric Sevareid was an American author and CBS news journalist from 1939 to 1977. He was one of a group of elite war correspondents who were hired by CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and nicknamed "Murrow's Boys". Sevareid was the first to report the Fall of Paris when the city was captured by the Germans during World War II.

Beverly Sills opera soprano

Beverly Sills was an American operatic soprano whose peak career was between the 1950s and 1970s.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment were selected as Executive Producers of the 38th annual Kennedy Center Honors (2015) after George Stevens Jr. stepped down. [7]

This is one of the few awards shows that does not air live (with the exception of closed-circuit venues), but a re-edited version lasting approximately two hours is normally televised on CBS after Christmas. [8] [9]

Selection process

Honoree recommendations are accepted from the general public, [10] and the Kennedy Center initiated a Special Honors Advisory Committee, which comprises two members of the Board of Trustees as well as past Honorees and distinguished artists. The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees selects the Honoree recipients based on excellence in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures or television. [11] The selections are typically announced sometime between July and September.

The events

The invitation-only weekend-long ceremony includes the Chairman's Luncheon, State Department dinner, White House reception, and the Honors gala performances and supper.

Surrounded by the Honorees, the luncheon is held on Saturday at the Kennedy Center, with a welcoming speech by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. At that evening's reception and dinner at the State Department, presided over by the Secretary of State, the Honorees are introduced and the Honors medallions are presented by the Chairman of the Board. [11] The wide rainbow-colored ribbon then hung around the necks of the recipients, and prominently noticeable when the events are televised, symbolizes "a spectrum of many skills within the performing arts" according to creator Ivan Chermayeff. [12]

On Sunday, there is an early-evening White House reception [13] hosted by the President of the United States and the First Lady, followed by the Honors gala performance at the Kennedy Center and supper.

For the 2015 gala performance, President Barack Obama did attend after addressing the nation in a live telecast. [14] There have been four occasions where the President did not attend the gala performances: President Jimmy Carter did not attend the December 1979 gala performance during the hostage crisis, [15] President George H.W. Bush did not attend in December 1989 and President Bill Clinton did not attend in 1994. [16] [17]

On August 19, 2017, the White House announced that President Donald Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, had decided not to participate in events honoring recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors awards to "allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction." [18] President and Mrs. Trump did not attend the 2017 ceremony, held on December 3, 2017. Caroline Kennedy was the hostess and presented the honorees. The traditional dinner at the State Department on the Saturday evening before the ceremony was hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the White House reception was canceled. [19]


2005 Kennedy Center Honorees Julie Harris, Robert Redford, Tina Turner, Suzanne Farrell, and Tony Bennett, with Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, in the Blue Room at the White House, December 4, 2005. 2005 Kennedy Center honorees.jpg
2005 Kennedy Center Honorees Julie Harris, Robert Redford, Tina Turner, Suzanne Farrell, and Tony Bennett, with Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, in the Blue Room at the White House, December 4, 2005.
The surviving members of Led Zeppelin were honored in 2012 and are pictured here with Former President Barack Obama. Barack Obama speaks to Led Zeppelin.jpg
The surviving members of Led Zeppelin were honored in 2012 and are pictured here with Former President Barack Obama.

There have been 217 recipients to date of the Kennedy Center Honors Awards during the Honor's 40 years (as of 2018), although the one given to Bill Cosby in 1998 was rescinded in 2018, following his sexual assault conviction. [20] The vast majority have been bestowed on individuals. On ten occasions since 1985, awards have been presented to duos or groups, including three married couples who were actors: Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. The dancers Fayard Nicholas and Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers were honored, along with three musical theater songwriting duos: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and John Kander and Fred Ebb. The musicians of three rock groups were also awarded: Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh and (posthumously) Glenn Frey of the Eagles.

The 2018 award ceremony presented the honor, for the first time, to the creators of the musical Hamilton : Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire for "trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category." [21]

The 2019 honorees include for the first time a television program; the co-founders of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney and Dr. Lloyd Morrisett, will accept the Kennedy Center Honors on behalf of all of the creators. [22]





Kennedy Center honorees 2009 Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen, with Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Blue Room, White House, December 6, 2009. Kennedy Center honorees 2009 WhiteHouse Photo.jpg
Kennedy Center honorees 2009 Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen, with Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Blue Room, White House, December 6, 2009.


Prospective honorees who declined, canceled, or postponed

Pianist Vladimir Horowitz was to be an honoree, but the selection committee withdrew the offer when Horowitz conditioned his acceptance on being honored alone and at 4 in the afternoon. [3]

Actress Katharine Hepburn declined the committee's first offer, though she relented in 1990. [3]

Doris Day repeatedly turned down the honors because her fear of flying prevented her from attending the ceremony. [32]

When considering Irving Berlin for the 1987 awards because of criticism for overlooking him, the Center was informed that Berlin wanted to be honored only if he surpassed his 100th birthday (which would not be until May 1988). Also, he was in failing health, used a wheelchair following a series of strokes, and could not attend a public event. The Center instead chose to pay special tribute to him at the 1987 Gala. He died in 1989. [33]

Paul McCartney was selected as an honoree in 2002, but was unable to attend because of an "inescapable personal obligation," his cousin's previously planned wedding. After initially saying that McCartney's award would be postponed until the following year, the Kennedy Center announced in August 2003 that "Paul McCartney will not be receiving a Kennedy Center Honor." [34] McCartney later became a 2010 honoree. [35]

Mel Brooks has stated that he refused the honor when George W. Bush was in office, due to his distaste for Bush's Iraq policy, but Brooks was an honoree in 2009, the first year Barack Obama was President. [36] [37]

In November 2015, one month before the actual ceremony, the Eagles postponed their honors until the following year because Glenn Frey had intestinal problems that required major surgery and a long recovery period. [30] Despite their absence, they were still honored in 2015 via a performance of "Desperado" by country singer Miranda Lambert. Glenn Frey died on January 18, 2016, though the Center made him and the three surviving members 2016 honorees. [38] [29]

In 2017, Norman Lear announced that he would accept the honors, but would boycott the White House ceremony because of his opposition to President Donald Trump, citing Trump's proposal to end the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. [39] Lear did attend the 2017 events and ceremony, but Donald and Melania Trump were not present, becoming the first U.S. presidential couple to skip the event, in order "to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction". [19]

See also

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  10. "Honors". John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
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  13. "A Vision in Blue". Mrs. O. December 4, 2011. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
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  18. "Trump to Skip Kennedy Center Arts Award". The Washington Post. August 19, 2017.
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  20. Holloway, Daniel (May 8, 2018). "Bill Cosby's Kennedy Center Honors, Mark Twain Prize Revoked". Variety. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  21. 1 2 Gans, Andrew (July 25, 2018). "Hamilton Creators Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler, Alex Lacamoire Will Receive Special Kennedy Center Honors". Playbill .
  22. 1 2 Gans, Andrew (July 18, 2019). "Sally Field and Linda Ronstadt Among 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill.
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  26. Gans, Andrew (September 12, 2013). "Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine and Carlos Santana Are 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013.
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  29. 1 2 "Martha Argerich, Eagles, Al Pacino, Mavis Staples, James Taylor To Receive 39th Annual Kennedy Center Honors" (PDF) (Press release). John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. June 23, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  30. 1 2 Clark, Cindy (November 4, 2015). "Kennedy Center Postpones Honors to Eagles". USA Today .
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  34. "The Kennedy Center Honors: This Year's Bid for Glamour". The New York Times. August 6, 2003.
  35. Trescott, Jacqueline (September 7, 2010). "Oprah Winfrey Among Five Recipients of 2010 Kennedy Center Honors". The Washington Post.
  36. "Mel Brooks on His New Box Set and the 1 Million Great Stories that Come with It". Vulture. November 13, 2012.
  37. "Mel Brooks: 'I'm An EGOT; I Don't Need Any More'". Fresh Air. May 20, 2013.
  38. Morton, Victor (January 18, 2016). "Glenn Frey, Eagles guitarist, dies at 67". The Washington Times . Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  39. Held, Amy (August 5, 2017). "Norman Lear, Kennedy Center Honoree, To Skip White House Reception In Protest". The Two-way. NPR. Retrieved July 18, 2019.