RENOWNED ARTIST FRIENDS AND PEERS OF THIS YEAR'S HONOREES
SALUTE THEM WITH JOYFUL AND POIGNANT TRIBUTES
AT "THE 27TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS:
A CELEBRATION OF THE PERFORMING ARTS,"
TO BE BROADCAST TUESDAY, DEC. 21 ON THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK
Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Elton John, Joan Sutherland
And John Williams Are This Year's Honorees
Host Caroline Kennedy Honors Her Predecessor, Walter Cronkite
Performers and Presenters Include Angela Bassett, Sean Combs, Robert Downey Jr.,
Faye Dunaway, Fantasia, Renee Fleming, Paul Groves, Thomas Hampson, Heather Headley, Marilyn Horne, Billy Joel, Kid Rock, Audra McDonald, Sherrill Milnes, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jack Nicholson, Itzhak Perlman, Leonard Slatkin, Steven Spielberg and Courtney B. Vance
President and Mrs. George W. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Richard B. Cheney and
Secretary of State and Mrs. Colin Powell Are Among the Gala's High-Ranking
Renowned artist friends and peers of this year's six honorees gathered together last night (Dec. 5) to present them with entertaining and poignant tributes at THE 27TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS: A CELEBRATION OF THE PERFORMING ARTS, a new entertainment special, to be broadcast Tuesday, Dec. 21 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network with Caroline Kennedy as host for the second consecutive year. Actor, producer, writer and director Warren Beatty, husband-and-wife actors, writers and producers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, singer and composer Elton John, soprano Joan Sutherland and composer and conductor John Williams are the honorees for the year 2004 -- and each were in attendance at the festive black-tie gala.
This annual event, which recognizes recipients for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures and television, has been broadcast by CBS from the Opera House of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. since its premiere in 1978. As per tradition, the list of presenters and performers remains secret prior to the gala -- and a short biographical film is presented as part of each tribute.
Among the performers and presenters are Angela Bassett, Sean Combs, Robert Downey Jr., Faye Dunaway, Fantasia, Renee Fleming, Paul Groves, Thomas Hampson, Heather Headley, Marilyn Horne, Billy Joel, Kid Rock, John Mauceri, Audra McDonald, Sherrill Milnes, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jack Nicholson, Itzhak Perlman, Leonard Slatkin, Steven Spielberg and Courtney B. Vance.
Additional performers include the Howard University Choir, (The President's Own) United States Marine Band and the Washington Chorus.
President and Mrs. George W. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Richard B. Cheney and Secretary of State and Mrs. Colin Powell are present, with the honorees, in the balcony seats -- having just come from the customary White House reception for the honorees.
Walter Cronkite, who hosted the special for 23 years, takes the stage to show his appreciation for having had that privilege -- and to officially introduce and turn over that role to Caroline Kennedy. States Cronkite, "Last year, with but a few hours notice, she bravely took to this stage when I was felled by laryngitis. She rose to the occasion with flying colors and you people certainly took her to your hearts. It is so fitting that she take over these duties -- adding a personal touch that no one else could possibly match in glorifying these Kennedy Center Honors." Kennedy joins him on stage to thank him for his contribution to the Kennedy Center Honors by presenting a bust of President Kennedy from which she reads the inscription, "'Walter Cronkite -- You have graced our stage. You have graced our lives. You have graced our history.'" After his standing ovation, Cronkite warmly waves to the crowd and exits the stage.
Caroline Kennedy welcomes the attendees, stating, "We are here tonight to extend the tradition of celebrating the arts in this country, a tradition that has been honored by five American Presidents." Citing how the hall reminds her of her father's commitment to honoring the very best in American culture, Kennedy quotes him saying, "'I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty; I look forward to an America that will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.'" Kennedy continues, "Those words inspire the life of this Center and tonight we gather to honor six individuals who have enriched our lives by their contributions to the performing arts."
Sean Combs next begins Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis' tribute saying, "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have given great gifts -- not just to audiences but to the generation of African-American performers, directors and writers who have traveled the road they made." Combs reveals that his respect for the pair first came from his mother. Per Combs, "She always used to tell me that Ossie Davis was the definition of a great man -- and that Ruby Dee was grace personified. And that their work on stage, on screen and in life was carried out with honesty, dignity and a bedrock belief in one person's own power to make a difference." Combs shares that he got a first-hand look at these qualities when they visited him during previews of his Broadway debut in "Raisin in the Sun." "There they were to inspire me. I think they saw that I needed it -- that maybe I was having some doubts about whether I could pull it off. We went around to my studio around the corner. When the door closed, that tiny beautiful woman up there (Dee) started yelling at me!" says Combs with a surprised tone that gets a laugh from the crowd. �It was like a scene out of 'Rocky' Ruby wanted me to understand how high the stakes were; that failure was not an option, that African-Americans are rarely given an opportunity to play great roles on Broadway -- and that I was following in the footsteps of Sidney Poitier� And, with that, Ossie and Ruby motivated me to take a leap of faith where I became Walter Lee Younger every night at 8 o'clock sharp -- and not Sean Combs�(spoken with false bravado) the recording artist, music producer, clothing designer, (more laughs), writer, director and party giver extraordinaire -- who also happened to be making his debut in a Broadway play." In conclusion, Combs states, "In Hip Hop, we have a saying that shows the ultimate respect or 'props' as we call it: Ruby and Ossie, when I grow up I wanna be just like you."
Afterward, husband and wife actors Courtney B. Vance and Angela Bassett appear on stage to present their verbal homage. Bassett first notes how they've looked to Dee and Davis for "inspiration and guidance" and Vance adds that the feted pair, who have been married for 56 years, are "Artists, activists; full of elegance; never at rest." Bassett later notes, "When as an unknown, Ossie was cast opposite Ruby in a play called 'Jeb' that only ran for nine performances, Ruby grumbled, �They probably snatched this man from behind a mule, stuck him in a costume and cast him.'" Vance continues, "Ossie remembered it a little differently -- 'I knew, my heart knew, my soul knew, that we were in this together -- and that was that'� Their bond is not just their love for one another, but the stage, the performance and their articulation of the great poets and playwrights." Quoting Davis, Vance says, " 'When there was no work, we created work for ourselves. Two notebooks, two music stands and our passion for great literature was all we needed and required to create a kind of people's theater.'" Bassett adds, "They took their art to colleges, community centers, cafeterias, hospitals, union halls and prisons. Wherever they stood was their stage." Continuing to quote Davis, Vance says, "'We learned how to belong to the people for whom we worked -- mainly black people. They were the audience that never made us rich, but never let us down.'"
As an aside, Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell thanks Dee and Davis for living personal and professional lives that are a "shining beacon" to all human beings -- no matter what their race is. He continues by revealing that, as a student at Howard University in 1939, Davis was present at the Lincoln Memorial when Marian Anderson, one of the first five Honorees in 1978, gave her peaceful protest concert -- at which Davis "found direction" and was greatly moved by Anderson's singing. Next, after a Howard University student offers gratitude to David and Dee for living such inspiring lives, Mitchell introduces fellow Broadway/singing sensation Audra McDonald, who revived Dee's role in "A Raisin in the Sun," for which McDonald won a Tony Award. McDonald then sings the spiritual "Let Us Break Bread Together," a slave song that was chosen by Anderson back on that fateful 1939 day at the Lincoln Memorial. Singing backup for McDonald is the Howard University Chorus and the Washington Chorus.
Joan Sutherland's longtime friend, opera singer Marilyn Horne, a 1995 Honoree, begins her tribute by recalling how awed she was when, in 1959, she first heard -- and became aware of -- Sutherland, whose recording she heard on West German radio. She also reminisces about being fortunate enough to sing with her on stage two years later at an opera presented in concert at New York's Town Hall, which was Sutherland's New York debut -- and she recounts how the world first discovered Sutherland when she played the mad bride in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, a role that is legendary for its level of difficulty. Horne states that Sutherland triumphed in Lucia at the Met -- and shares, "I have had the privilege of hearing Joan in some of her greatest performances -- and the even greater honor of having shared some of them. She is as warm and giving in performance as she is in friendship."
Opera singer Sherrill Milnes, who has appeared on stage with Sutherland more than 30 times, shares, "The first time you hear her voice -- or more so, standing beside her on the stage -- you realize that her voice is like no other: an avalanche of sound, a coloratura soprano with a full, rich, lyric bloom, with astonishing agility, and a range that sails into the stratosphere effortlessly. She has become the standard by which all others are measured." Milnes also reports that "despite her great gifts, Joan is very undiva-like," sharing that, unlike most singers, Sutherland was more interested in catching up on her needlepoint during recording sessions than in agonizing over the retakes. Milnes then introduces Baritone Thomas Hampson and Tenor Paul Groves who sing the duet "Au Fond Du Temple Saint" from The Pearl Fishers by Bizet.
John Williams' tribute begins with warm, appreciative words from his friend, Steven Spielberg, for whom Williams has created Academy Award-winning original scores for "Jaws," "E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Schindler's List" -- and for whom he also scored films such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Saving Private Ryan," "Catch Me If You Can," "The Terminal" and the upcoming "Indiana Jones" film. Says Spielberg, "John Williams reinterprets our films with a musical narrative that makes our hearts pound during action cliffhanger scenes, gets the audience to scream when we were hoping they would do so -- and pushes that same audience from the brink to breaking into all out applause. When the written story makes the audience's eyes brim, John's music makes the tears fall. If a director can tell a one-hanky story, John Williams' scores are guaranteed to make you use the whole box of Kleenex." In addition to saying how grateful he is to work with Williams -- he tells a tale of when he first met with Williams to hear the music for "Jaws" -- Spielberg relays being surprised and uncertain when Williams just kept repeating a few notes. Says Spielberg, "I said, 'That's all?' and (Williams) said (Spielberg uses a patient, matter-of-fact tone), 'I really think that's all you need,'" which elicited laughter from the crowd.
Next, violinist Itzhak Perlman, a 2003 Kennedy Center Honoree, recalls first hearing from Williams to play a violin solo for his newest film, "Schindler's List." Perlman remembers initially wondering how Williams, though phenomenally talented, would tackle such a different subject matter. However, Perlman shares that he was ultimately awed by what Williams created -- and is grateful Williams for making him a part of it. Perlman then plays the soulful song from "Schindler's List" -- after which he receives a standing ovation.
To conclude Williams' homage, (The President's Own) United States Marine Band led by Leonard Slatkin, the Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra, performs an entertaining musical medley of some of Williams' most recognizable feature film theme songs, including "Star Wars," for which Williams also won an Academy Award, "Jaws," "Superman," "Harry Potter," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and "E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial."
Faye Dunaway starts Warren Beatty's homage with a recollection of her first interaction with him in 1966. "I was auditioning for Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty for a little picture called 'Bonnie and Clyde.' A little picture 'the kid' -- as Hollywood executives had taken to calling Warren -- was putting together. Who knew what the kid was up to? God had graced him with beauty -- but what did he know about making movies? But we actors on the street, we knew. This was a biggie. Certainly, after I read the script, I knew the role of Bonnie Parker was a brass ring� I must have done something right because Warren decided to take a chance on me. And with that one act, Warren, you gave me my career." At that moment, the audience breaks into applause, during which Beatty blows Dunaway a kiss. Dunaway then credits Beatty with also being a role model. "He gave us a dream: To follow our passion, against all conventional wisdom, to find new ways to break new ground -- to contribute to the art form�." She closes by praising him for his professional determination and his integrity -- and the depth of his loyalty and his capacity for friendship, citing how he has always been there for her when she's sought his advise or support.
Warren Beatty's long-time friend Jack Nicholson, a 2001 Honoree whom Beatty had honored that year, offers funny and heartfelt personal reflections on Beatty that are all extremely well received by Beatty, Bening, and the rest of the audience. He commences by saying, "For years Warren has dreamed of attending these awards," which gets a laugh from the audience. "� unfortunately not exactly as a Kennedy Center Honoree, but as the President of the United States. Things didn't work out that way so Warren has made sure his films always have a strong political theme. �Heaven Can Wait� deals with protecting the environment. �Bulworth� touches on campaign reform. And �Bonnie and Clyde� (pauses) the right to bear arms." This generates another hearty laugh from the crowd. Nicholson impishly adds, "You notice I didn't mention what �Shampoo� was about." Later, after having touched upon Beatty's moviemaking skills, the talents of Beatty's wife, Annette Bening, how patriotic and hard-working Beatty is, and what a doting father he has become, Nicholson shares that he and Beatty just celebrated Thanksgiving at Beatty's home at which Beatty and Bening's talented young children entertained everyone in attendance. He teases Beatty by saying that Henry Warren Beatty was so determined to be a movie star that nothing would deter him. "This is a boy who was going to be a film star in the days when actors had names like Tab, Rock, Slide, Slam, Splash. He decided to stick with the name 'Warren.' That's confidence," which got more chuckles. Complimenting Beatty's directing skills, Nicholson recalled that he had been nervous after Beatty got him to accept the role of Eugene O' Neil in "Reds" -- as he didn't resemble the renowned, somewhat gaunt, playwright. Per Nicholson, Beatty said, " 'Listen to me. Are you listening to me?! This is the movies, Jack. After you play the part, they'll think Eugene O'Neil looks like you.' This is excellent directing, ladies and gentlemen," grins Nicholson. In closing, Nicholson shares that Beatty has an endearing soft side, after which he introduces Renee Fleming as someone Beatty greatly admires.
Fleming then says, "Warren has talked about his wishes for his children -- imagination, creativity, good health and good music� and that they follow their dreams." After calling it "a song that touches our dreams and reaches out to the child in all of us," Fleming sings "Over the Rainbow" as a tribute to Beatty, Bening and their four children, three of whom are seated in the audience.
Elton John's tribute opens with his friend, actor Robert Downey Jr. who states, "Elton John -- I've got three thoughts. The first one that comes to mind is� genius. The second thought on a more personal note � lifesaver. And I've got the third thought�The other First Lady?" Downey Jr. describes how John called him in the middle of the night -- during a self-described "desperate" time in Downey's life that did not go beyond John's notice -- to ask that Downey Jr. be a part of his new music video for "I Want Love," which the surprised Downey Jr. accepted with delight. "Elton John, you have shown me a new way to walk down the winding road that is my life -- and is yours, too� Your music is a bright light to me -- to us -- whenever the fog may set in. But more than your music, it is your example as an artist, humanitarian and �ber-citizen of this world that continues to nourish me inside."
In the rousing musical part of John's tribute, Billy Joel, who has toured with John, sings and plays the accompanying piano music to John's "Bennie & the Jets" and "The Bitch Is Back." Next, Fantasia sings John's "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" -- noting that it was the last song recorded by the late Ray Charles, a 1986 Honoree -- and Downey Jr. follows by singing "Levon." Kid Rock ends up rocking the house with "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," bringing the entire audience to its feet, as they clapped and danced by their seats. Even the President and honorees rose during the lively tune. Though she had a hard act to follow, Heather Headley, the lead in the Elton John Broadway musicals "Aida," for which she won a Tony Award, and "The Lion King," more than held her own, belting out the powerful "Your Song," to the obvious delight of John and the crowd.
Bringing the festivities to an end, Caroline Kennedy addresses the honorees saying, "You have graced our stages. You have graced our lives. You have graced our history," after which the honorees take their final bow during the enthusiastic and lengthy standing ovation from the audience members.
THE 27TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS: A CELEBRATION OF THE PERFORMING ARTS is a production of the Kennedy Center. George Stevens Jr., who created the Honors in 1978 with Nick Vanoff, will produce and co-write the show for the 27th consecutive year. The Honors telecast has been honored with five Emmy Awards for Outstanding Program as well as the Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television. THE 27TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS: A CELEBRATION OF THE PERFORMING ARTS is sponsored in part by General Motors and TIAA-CREF.
RATING: To Be Announced