Kennedy Center Honors
|Kennedy Center Honors|
|Awarded for||Lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.|
|Presented by||Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center|
|Website||Kennedy Center Honors|
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 in Washington, D.C.
George Stevens Jr. created the Kennedy Center Honors with Nick Vanoff and produced the first gala in 1978. He was the producer and co-writer through the 2014 awards, after which he sold the production rights to the Kennedy Center.
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:
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 (with Gene Kelly closing it), and Beverly Sills in 1980. Walter Cronkite hosted from 1981 to 2002 and Caroline Kennedy hosted from 2003 to 2012. Glenn Close hosted in 2013 and Stephen Colbert hosted from 2014 to 2016. There was no formal host in 2017, although Caroline Kennedy delivered an introduction. In 2018 and mid-2021, Gloria Estefan hosted and, in 2019, LL Cool J hosted.
This is one of the few awards shows that does not air live (with the exception of closed-circuit venues), but an edited version lasting approximately two hours is normally televised on CBS after Christmas. Normally, the show has been aired between Christmas and New Year's on CBS television, but, in a departure from this tradition, the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors aired on regular television in early December and was later made available on CBS All Access.
Eventually, it was announced that the 2020 edition would be postponed and rescheduled for March 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was since pushed back and held between May 17 and May 22 with the edited broadcast, which aired on June 6, 2021.
Honoree recommendations are accepted from the general public 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. The selections are typically announced sometime between July and September.
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. 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.
On Sunday, there is an early-evening White House reception, traditionally 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 Obama attended after addressing the nation in a live telecast. Prior to 2017, there had 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, President George H.W. Bush did not attend in December 1989 and President Bill Clinton did not attend in 1994.
On August 19, 2017, the White House announced that President Trump and the first lady 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." The 2017 ceremony was held on December 3, 2017 without them and Caroline Kennedy was the host 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. Donald and Melania Trump also did not attend the 2018 or 2019 events.
Two hundred thirty Kennedy Center Honors have been awarded as of 2019. One award, given to Bill Cosby in 1998, was rescinded in 2018, following a sexual assault conviction. The vast majority have been bestowed on individuals. On 11 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. Dancers The Nicholas Brothers, Fayard and Harold 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. Members of four music groups were awarded: Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who; John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin; Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh and (posthumously) Glenn Frey of the Eagles; and Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and (posthumously) Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire.
In 2018, the award for "trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category" was created and presented at the annual ceremony to the creators of the musical Hamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire.
The 2019 honorees included, for the first time, a television program; the co-founders of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney and Dr. Lloyd Morrisett, accepted the Kennedy Center Honors on behalf of all of the creators.
- 1978 – Marian Anderson, Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Richard Rodgers, and Arthur Rubinstein
- 1979 – Aaron Copland, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Martha Graham, and Tennessee Williams
- 1980 – Leonard Bernstein, James Cagney, Agnes de Mille, Lynn Fontanne, and Leontyne Price
- 1981 – Count Basie, Cary Grant, Helen Hayes, Jerome Robbins, and Rudolf Serkin
- 1982 – George Abbott, Lillian Gish, Benny Goodman, Gene Kelly, and Eugene Ormandy
- 1983 – Katherine Dunham, Elia Kazan, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, and Virgil Thomson
- 1984 – Lena Horne, Danny Kaye, Gian Carlo Menotti, Arthur Miller, and Isaac Stern
- 1985 – Merce Cunningham, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and Beverly Sills
- 1986 – Lucille Ball, Ray Charles, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Yehudi Menuhin, and Antony Tudor
- 1987 – Perry Como, Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Nathan Milstein, and Alwin Nikolais
- 1988 – Alvin Ailey, George Burns, Myrna Loy, Alexander Schneider, and Roger L. Stevens
- 1989 – Harry Belafonte, Claudette Colbert, Alexandra Danilova, Mary Martin, and William Schuman
- 1990 – Dizzy Gillespie, Katharine Hepburn, Risë Stevens, Jule Styne, and Billy Wilder
- 1991 – Roy Acuff, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Fayard and Harold Nicholas, Gregory Peck, and Robert Shaw
- 1992 – Lionel Hampton, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Ginger Rogers, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Paul Taylor
- 1993 – Johnny Carson, Arthur Mitchell, Georg Solti, Stephen Sondheim, and Marion Williams
- 1994 – Kirk Douglas, Aretha Franklin, Morton Gould, Harold Prince, and Pete Seeger
- 1995 – Jacques d'Amboise, Marilyn Horne, B.B. King, Sidney Poitier, and Neil Simon
- 1996 – Edward Albee, Benny Carter, Johnny Cash, Jack Lemmon, and Maria Tallchief
- 1997 – Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, Charlton Heston, Jessye Norman, and Edward Villella
- 1998 – Fred Ebb and John Kander, Willie Nelson, André Previn, and Shirley Temple Black; Bill Cosby's honor was rescinded in 2018 due to a sexual assault conviction
- 1999 – Victor Borge, Sean Connery, Judith Jamison, Jason Robards, and Stevie Wonder
- 2000 – Mikhail Baryshnikov, Chuck Berry, Plácido Domingo, Clint Eastwood, and Angela Lansbury
- 2001 – Julie Andrews, Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones, Jack Nicholson, and Luciano Pavarotti
- 2002 – James Earl Jones, James Levine, Chita Rivera, Paul Simon, and Elizabeth Taylor
- 2003 – James Brown, Carol Burnett, Loretta Lynn, Mike Nichols, and Itzhak Perlman
- 2004 – Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Elton John, Joan Sutherland, and John Williams
- 2005 – Tony Bennett, Suzanne Farrell, Julie Harris, Robert Redford, and Tina Turner
- 2006 – Andrew Lloyd Webber, Zubin Mehta, Dolly Parton, Smokey Robinson, and Steven Spielberg
- 2007 – Leon Fleisher, Steve Martin, Diana Ross, Martin Scorsese, and Brian Wilson
- 2008 – Morgan Freeman, George Jones, Barbra Streisand, Twyla Tharp, and The Who (Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey)
- 2009 – Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen
- 2010 – Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Bill T. Jones, Paul McCartney, and Oprah Winfrey
- 2011 – Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins, and Meryl Streep
- 2012 – Buddy Guy, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova, and Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant)
- 2013 – Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine, and Carlos Santana
- 2014 – Al Green, Tom Hanks, Patricia McBride, Sting, and Lily Tomlin
- 2015 – Carole King, George Lucas, Rita Moreno, Seiji Ozawa, and Cicely Tyson
- 2016 – Martha Argerich, Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh), Al Pacino, Mavis Staples, and James Taylor
- 2017 – Carmen de Lavallade, Gloria Estefan, LL Cool J, Norman Lear, and Lionel Richie
- 2018 – Cher, Philip Glass, Reba McEntire, Wayne Shorter, and the creators of Hamilton: An American Musical (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Alex Lacamoire, and Andy Blankenbuehler)
- 2019 – Earth, Wind & Fire (Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Maurice White), Sally Field, Linda Ronstadt, Sesame Street (Lloyd Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney), and Michael Tilson Thomas
Prospective honorees who declined, canceled or postponed
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.
Paul McCartney was selected as an honoree in 2002, but was unable to attend due to 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." McCartney later became a 2010 honoree.
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, however Brooks was an honoree in 2009, the first year Barack Obama was President.
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. Despite their absence, they were still honored in 2015 via a performance of "Desperado" by country singer Miranda Lambert. Frey died on January 18, 2016, though the Center made him and the three surviving members 2016 honorees.
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. 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".
- Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the Kennedy Center's award for contributions to American humor
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- "2017 Honors" (PDF) (Press release). John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. December 3, 2017.
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- Chermayeff, Ivan (December 7, 2008). "Q& A: Ivan Chermayeff, Designer of the Kennedy Center Honors Medal". The Washington Post (Interview). Interviewed by Jennifer Frey.
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Mrs. Carter: 'As you know President Carter has had to cancel his public appearances.'
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- "Trump to Skip Kennedy Center Arts Award". The Washington Post. August 19, 2017.
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- Harris, Paul (December 9, 2019). "Heartfelt Tributes Trump Politics at Kennedy Center Honors". Variety. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
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- Gans, Andrew (July 25, 2018). "Hamilton Creators Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler, Alex Lacamoire Will Receive Special Kennedy Center Honors". Playbill.
- Gans, Andrew (July 18, 2019). "Sally Field and Linda Ronstadt Among 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill.
- "Kennedy Center rescinds Bill Cosby's Honors and Twain awards". The Washington Post. May 7, 2018.
- "Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins & Meryl Streep to Receive 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors". John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- Gans, Andrew (September 12, 2012). "Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova, Buddy Guy, Led Zeppelin Are Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012.
- 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.
- Harris, Paul (September 4, 2014). "Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, Sting to Receive Kennedy Center Honors". Variety. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
- Viagas, Robert (July 15, 2015). "Carole King, Cicely Tyson, Rita Moreno and More Named 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees". Playbill.
- "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.
- Clark, Cindy (November 4, 2015). "Kennedy Center Postpones Honors to Eagles". USA Today.
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- "Mel Brooks on His New Box Set and the 1 Million Great Stories that Come with It". Vulture. November 13, 2012.
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- Morton, Victor (January 18, 2016). "Glenn Frey, Eagles guitarist, dies at 67". The Washington Times. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
- 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.