The Kennedy Centre Honours will return in December with a class that includes Motown Records creator Berry Gordy, Saturday Night Live mastermind Lorne Michaels and actress-singer Bette Midler.
rganisers expect to operate at full capacity, after last year’s ceremony was delayed for months and later conducted under Covid-19 restrictions.
This 44th class of honours for lifetime achievement in the creative arts is heavy on musical performers.
The honours also include opera singer Justino Diaz and folk music legend Joni Mitchell.
All will be honoured on December 5 with a trademark programme that includes personalised tributes and performances that are kept secret from those being honoured.
Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, said the current plan is to pack the centre’s opera house to full capacity and require all attendees to wear masks.
But the plans remain fluid and Ms Rutter said they’re ready to adapt to changing circumstances depending on the country’s Covid-19 situation.
“We don’t know for sure what it’s going to be like,” Rutter said in an interview. “But don’t you think we all deserve to have a party?”
The 43rd Kennedy Centre Honours class was delayed from December 2020 as the centre largely shut down its indoor programming.
A heavily slimmed-down ceremony was finally held in May of this year, with a series of small socially distanced gatherings and pre-taped video performances replacing the normal gala event.
“We know how to do it now. We will make whatever adjustments we need,” Ms Rutter said.
“We’re going to be wearing masks right up until we don’t have to.”
Midler, 75, has won four Grammy Awards, three Emmys, and two Tony Awards, along with two Oscar nominations.
Her albums have sold over 30 million copies.
In a statement, Midler said she was “stunned and grateful beyond words.
“For many years I have watched this broadcast celebrating the best talent in the performing arts that America has to offer, and I truly never imagined that I would find myself among these swans”.
Mitchell, 77, emerged from the Canadian coffee shop circuit to become one of the standard-bearers for multiple generations of singer-songwriters.
In 2020, Rolling Stone magazine declared her 1971 album Blue to be the third-best album of all time.
In a brief statement, Mitchell, said: “I wish my mother and father were alive to see this.
“It’s a long way from Saskatoon.”
The December 5 ceremony will be the centrepiece of the Kennedy Centre’s 50th anniversary of cultural programming.
The centre opened in 1971 and a young Diaz, now 81, actually performed at the grand opening of the opera house.
“It’s a very special thing,” said Diaz, a bass-baritone from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“It’s such a great privilege to be able to say I shared this space with all these geniuses.”
Gordy, 91, founded Motown Records, the Detroit-based hit factory that spawned what became known as the Motown Sound and launched the careers of a huge list of artists, including Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, Marvin Gaye and Martha and the Vandellas.
Gordy said in an interview that he always held President John Kennedy as one of the greatest leaders in US history.
“So to be honoured in his name just means the world to me,” he said.
Michaels, 76, is a comedy institution unto himself, creating and producing Saturday Night Live since 1975 and producing dozens of movies and television shows, including Wayne’s World, Kids In The Hall and Mean Girls.
He received the Kennedy Centre’s Mark Twain Award for lifetime achievement in comedy in 2004.
Not normally an on-stage performer, Michaels recalls the Mark Twain evening as “mostly nerve-wracking” because he spent the evening dreading the traditional end-of-night speech he had to deliver.
But the Kennedy Centre Honours bring no such pressures, and Michaels said he intends to sit back in the special honorees box at the opera house and see what surprises the organisers have in store.
“You don’t have to give a speech at the end, which is huge,” he said.
“You’re just there with your friends.”
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