Inside D.C. entertainment

2011 Kennedy Center Honors recipients announced

September 7, 2011 - 01:41 PM
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Sonny Rollins, one of the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors receipients. (AP Photo)

Singer Barbara Cook, singer/songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, and actress Meryl Streep will receive the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors, the Kennedy Center announced today.

The Kennedy Center Honors gala (which a press release correctly referred to as the "highlight of the Washington cultural year") will take place on December 4; recipients will receive their medallions at a special state dinner, hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on Dec. 3.

People who aren't invited to either shindig will have to wait until Dec. 27, when CBS will air a two-hour special devoted to the event.

(Full release of the announcement below).

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts today announced the selection of the individuals who will receive the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors. Recipients to be honored at the 34th annual national celebration of the arts are: singer Barbara Cook, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, and actress Meryl Streep.

"This year, the Kennedy Center celebrates its 40th anniversary by selecting five extraordinary individuals whose collective artistry has contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world," said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. "With her sublime voice and rich performances, Barbara Cook has defined all that is best and brightest in the Great American Songbook. Neil Diamond’s songwriting genius has created one of the most enduring catalogs of American popular music and his live performances have captivated audiences for five decades. Yo-Yo Ma’s sterling musicianship makes him one of the most versatile and popular classical music performers in the world and his Silk Road Project has inspired students across the world to love and honor music. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ masterful improvisation and powerful presence have infused the truly American art form of jazz with passion and energy. The sheer brilliance and breadth of Meryl Streep’s performances count as one of the most exhilarating cultural spectacles of our time."

The annual Honors Gala has become the highlight of the Washington cultural year, and its broadcast on CBS is a high point of the television season. On Sunday, December 4, in a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, produced by George Stevens Jr. and Michael Stevens, the 2011 Honorees will be saluted by great performers from New York, Hollywood, and the arts capitals of the world. Seated with the President of the United States and Mrs. Obama, the Honorees will accept the thanks of their peers and fans through performances and heartfelt tributes.

The President and Mrs. Obama will receive the Honorees and members of the Artists Committee who nominate them, along with the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees at the White House prior to the gala performance. The 2011 Kennedy Center Honors Gala concludes with a supper dance in the Grand Foyer.

The Kennedy Center Honors medallions will be presented on Saturday, December 3, the night before the gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 34th consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Tuesday, December 27 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT).

George Stevens Jr., who created the Honors in 1978 with Nick Vanoff, will produce and co-write the show for the 34th year. Stevens and his Honors producing partner Michael Stevens received two consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Variety, Musical or Comedy Special and are nominated again for the fifth consecutive time. The Honors telecast has also been recognized with the Peabody Award for Outstanding Meritorious Service to Broadcasting and seven awards from the Writers Guild of America. Between them, the Stevenses have received 17 Emmy Awards and 47 nominations for their work in television.

Delta Air Lines, the official airline of the Kennedy Center Honors television broadcast, will provide transportation for the performers and television crew that will be coming to Washington for the Honors Gala.

The Honors recipients recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television—are selected by the Center’s Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.

Past Honors recipients, as well as members of the Kennedy Center’s national artists committee, made recommendations of possible 2011 Honorees. Artists making recommendations included: Christine Baranski, Harolyn Blackwell, Glenn Close, Denyce Graves, Paloma Herrera, Bill Irwin, Evgeny Kissin, Patti LuPone, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Taylor. Previous Kennedy Center Honorees, including Julie Andrews, Dave Brubeck, Carol Burnett, Plácido Domingo, Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson, Jessye Norman, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Spielberg, and Stevie Wonder also made nominations.

Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser expressed the national cultural center’s continued gratitude to the many individuals involved in the success of the Honors program. "In addition to recognizing some of the world’s most treasured artists, the Kennedy Center Honors supports a wide variety of artistic programming, as well as the Center’s educational and national outreach efforts."

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