Anyone looking for a way to learn about different artistic genres need look no further than the Kennedy Center Honors awarded each December to legendary performing artists. Since 1978, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. has honored those actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and dancers who have helped shape America’s culture.
Past honorees include the likes of comedic genius Bill Cosby, jazz great B.B. King, country legend Dolly Parton, the iconic Barbra Streisand, acting pioneer Sidney Poiter, dancer Mikhaiil Baryshnikov, opera singer Jessye Norman, and movie trailblazer Stephen Spielburg. Honorees are honored first at a State Dinner hosted by the President and then with a tribute performance held at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
Unlike most award shows, Kennedy Center honorees are selected and notified ahead of time. The only condition to accepting the award is that they must attend the festivities held in their honor. They don’t have to perform, make a speech, or meet the fans. All they need to do is meet the President, hear others sing their praises, and bask in the warm admiration of others. Each honoree is first treated to a biographical short film detailing their life and dedication to their craft followed by a live performance that pays tribute to his or her greatest accomplishments. Performers are often current celebrities who jump at the chance to pay tribute to their friends, mentors, or colleagues. The segment is finished when everyone stands and applauds the honoree, which is often an emotional and overwhelming moment for them.
This year’s tribute performance will be nationally televised on December 29 at 9 p.m. EST on CBS. 2009 honorees are writer, composer, actor, director, and producer Mel Brooks; jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck; opera singer Grace Bumbry; actor, director, and producer Robert De Niro; and singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen. For a sneak peak at the night’s festivities, watch the video below.
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