Kennedy Center Honors
The Kennedy Center Honors is an annual made for television, lifetime achievement honor given to those in the performing arts for their contributions to United States culture. The Honors have been presented annually since 1978 in Washington, D.C., during a weekend-long series of events which include a performance honoring the Honorees at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
The Honors were created by George Stevens, Jr. and Nick Vanoff. As of 2012, Stevens continues as producer and co-writer for the Honors Performance. From 1978 until 2002, Walter Cronkite hosted the evening; since 2003, it has been hosted by Caroline Kennedy.
The Kennedy Center is a performing arts center built along the Potomac River to honor President Kennedy after his death. Although the building is owned by the National Park Service, a private charity funds its operation and needs to raise money each year for that purpose.
The Kennedy Center Honors started in 1977, following the Kennedy Center's 10th-anniversary White House reception and Kennedy Center program for the American Film Institute (AFI). Roger Stevens, the founding chairman of the Kennedy Center, asked George Stevens, Jr., the founding director of the AFI, to have a fund-raising event for the Center. George Stevens asked Isaac Stern to become involved, and then proposed the idea to the CBS television network who agreed to broadcast it.
Each year, the Kennedy Center's national artists committee and past honorees recommend proposed Honorees to the Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center. The selection process is kept secret, though "certain criteria seem apparent: a mix of artistic disciplines, the inclusion of men and women, minority recognition."
The announcement is made in late summer, usually after the Labor Day Weekend. The ceremony is held the first weekend of December. Highlights from the fundraising performance are televised in a two-hour special produced by Stevens on CBS television between Christmas and the New Year.
For the Honors to succeed as a television show and fundraiser, the honorees must be well-known performing artists. In 2012, Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts called Michael M. Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center, in an effort to pressure the Kennedy Center into honoring more Hispanic artists. After Kaiser hung up the phone on Sanchez, Sanchez called up the Washington media and reported that Kaiser had told him to "f--- yourself". Kaiser subsequently apologized to Sanchez for his language, but denies that the Kennedy Center is discriminating against Hispanics. In 2002, it honored Chita Rivera and in 2000 it honored Placido Domingo. Sanchez told the Washington Post, "I still think the Kennedy Center has to acknowledge the exclusion and make a commitment to some systematic changes with the show...."
The weekend-long series of honoring events includes a lunch, a dinner, a reception and a performance for the new Honorees. The lunch is on Saturday at the Kennedy Center, with a welcoming speech by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The same day, the United States Secretary of State hosts a reception and dinner at the State Department. On Sunday, there is an early evening White House reception with the President of the United States, who hangs an award around each honoree's neck.
The performance takes place Sunday evening at the Opera House in the Kennedy Center. The Honorees (wearing their medals) and guests sit in the front of the Box Tier, a few seats away from the President and the First Family. The Honorees do not appear on stage nor do they speak to the general audience. The show consists of events from the recipients' lives, presented documentary style in film and live onstage, with the complete list of guest performers kept unpublicized until the show is in progress. George Stevens, Jr. said: "Our tradition of surprises and surprise guests is particularly special..." The Honors Gala is "really two different shows", according to George Stevens, Jr., its producer; Stevens places priority on entertaining the 2300-member audience in the Opera House, some of whom pay over $6000 for their seats. The Honors provides (as of 2005) almost 10% of the center's annual contributions. The film captured at the performance is then packaged as a television special.
- "About the Honors" Kennedy Center, accessed September 29, 2012
- Keller, Julie."Kennedy Honors Feel Good" E! Online.com, August 5, 2003
- Crews, Chip."The Honors, Take 2"The Washington Post, December 27, 2005
- "Kennedy Center Honors" kennedy-center.org, retrieved December 6, 2010
- Montgomery, David. "Kennedy Center head apologizes for language", Washington Post, September 29, 2012, p. C1.
- Chmela, Holli: "Five Artists Lauded at Kennedy Center Gala" New York Times, December 4, 2006