AN EXTRAORDINARY MIX OF RENOWNED ARTISTS GATHER IN WASHINGTON, D.C., TO SALUTE THIS YEAR'S HONOREES AT "THE 34TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS," TO BE BROADCAST TUESDAY, DEC. 27 ON THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK
Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins and Meryl Streep are the Honorees for the 34th Anniversary of This Acclaimed Annual Special
Caroline Kennedy Hosts for Ninth Consecutive Year
Performers and Presenters Include Emily Blunt, Matthew Broderick, Anna Christy, Glenn Close, Stephen Colbert, Ravi Coltrane, Bill Cosby, Robert De Niro, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Drummond, Elmo, Sutton Foster, Benny Golson, Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Anne Hathaway, Jimmy Heath, Kevin Kline, John Lithgow, Joe Lovano, Rebecca Luker, Patti LuPone, Christian McBride, Audra McDonald, Jennifer Nettles, Mike Nichols, Kelli O'Hara, Laura Osnes, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Raphael Saadiq, James Taylor, Stanley Tucci, Tracey Ullman and John Williams
President and Mrs. Barack Obama Attend Gala alongside Honorees
Eminent artists, friends and peers of this year's five honorees converged in Washington, D.C., last night (Dec. 4) to present entertaining and heartfelt tributes at THE 34TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, an entertainment special to be broadcast Tuesday, Dec. 27 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, with Caroline Kennedy as host for the ninth consecutive year
The annual event recognizes recipients for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures and television. Keeping with tradition, the roster of performers and presenters remained secret prior to the gala and a short biographical film was featured during each honoree's tribute.
Performers and presenters included Emily Blunt, Matthew Broderick, Anna Christy, Glenn Close, Stephen Colbert, Ravi Coltrane, Bill Cosby, Robert De Niro, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Drummond, Elmo, Sutton Foster, Benny Golson, Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Anne Hathaway, Jimmy Heath, Kevin Kline, John Lithgow, Joe Lovano, Rebecca Luker, Patti LuPone, Christian McBride, Audra McDonald, Jennifer Nettles, Mike Nichols, Kelli O'Hara, Laura Osnes, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Raphael Saadiq, James Taylor, Stanley Tucci, Tracey Ullman and John Williams.
President and Mrs. Barack Obama were seated with the honorees in the Presidential Box of the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, after hosting the traditional White House reception for the honorees.
Host Caroline Kennedy opened the festivities by quoting her father, President John F. Kennedy, saying, "Forty-nine years ago, my father said, 'There is little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist... if art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.'"
She continued, "We are here tonight to give full recognition to artists who have used their freedom to create art that has nourished us. Five visionaries are seated in the place of honor next to the President, and we add their names to our signature wall. There they join the honor roll of great artists who have enriched American culture through the performing arts. Their gifts to us are as varied as their origins: a boy who grew up with the sounds of Sugar Hill in Harlem and used the pearl keys of his tenor sax to secure a place among the legends of American jazz; a stage-struck soprano from Georgia who decade after decade has given us all of the joy and the humanity within the American songbook; a Brooklyn lad with a gift for melody who grew into a solitary man, reaching out, touching me, touching you; Mother Superior, Mother Courage, Mamma Mia - and dozens of other indelible characters - earned this New Jersey girl the mantle, 'actress of her generation'; Paris-born, American bred, this child of the world has expanded our musical universe to become our 'cellist in chief.' These are our 2011 Kennedy Center Honorees."
Emmy Award-winning actress and comedian Tracey Ullman began the tribute to her longtime friend, multiple Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, stating, "I'm here to talk about my friend Meryl Streep - which is a great honor, but not easy. I was with my daughter Mabel a couple of weeks ago, who has known Meryl all her life, and I asked her what she thought I should say. 'Hmm,' she said. 'It's getting harder and harder, Mum, I mean, what hasn't been said?' And this is true because it's obvious that Meryl is brilliant, the actress of her generation, the cream of the crop; she's strong, tenacious, a champion of women worldwide..."
Ullman continued, "I could talk about how brilliant she is as Margaret Thatcher in her latest film, 'Iron Lady,' and how amazed I was to see the girl from Jersey becoming the girl from Grantham. I mean, only Meryl could give such a compassionate portrayal of a woman I raged against in the '80s... 'You need an angle, Mum,' Mabel said. There was a long pause and then she looked at me with a furrowed brow and said, 'Is there anything Meryl's bad at?' Well, we tried to think of something, and we couldn't! She can sing, dance, cook - cooks like Julia Child, in fact... and if she was bad at something she would practice like crazy in private so that she would be more brilliant at it than anyone else in the world. We even have secret footage of her in bed at 6 in the morning learning to speak Chinese! I'm not saying how we got it... so I am officially in awe of you, dear friend; you try harder, give more and remain as humble as anyone I know. I'm honored to be here tonight to be a part of this prestigious tribute to you."
Academy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning actor and 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree Robert De Niro continued Streep's tribute. "As an actor looking at those moments of Meryl's life, my first thought is... I was amazing in 'Deer Hunter,' wasn't I? I gave a performance that was strong yet sensitive, fiercely masculine, but with an affecting inner beauty... I was nominated for an Academy Award for 'The Deer Hunter.' And so was Meryl. That was her first. She's up to 16 now. You know what that means? She's sat through the Academy Awards 16 times! Jesus! Now that's a record. Coincidentally, Meryl and I have each won two Oscars, but I've only been nominated six times, so I actually have a better winning percentage."
De Niro continued, "One factor keeping Meryl's average down is that she has to compete with Meryl Streep. In the Golden Globes, where she set records of 25 nominations and seven competitive wins, she's actually lost twice to herself... including last year, when her performance in 'Julie and Julia' beat out her performance in 'It's Complicated.' Meryl was so gracious in losing... In each of those movies and in everything I've seen Meryl do, I'm continually struck by how perfectly she inhabits, humanizes, and honestly portrays such a wide range of characters. There's never a false note, never an overlooked detail. Truly, no one does it better."
Streep's friend and director, Academy Award, Golden Globe, Emmy Award, Tony Award and Grammy Award-winning director and 2003 Kennedy Center Honoree Mike Nichols, spoke next. "Meryl becomes a different person in each movie, body, soul and all. She stands alone as an actress. She could handle any part thrown at her except maybe Gidget. She's the definition of versatility which makes her a nightmare as a dinner partner... the fact is I have no idea how she does it, I only know that watching it is one of the great experiences of my life. Frankly, I'm not sure she knows how she does it. If she does, we'll never get it out of her. She simplified it for me when she told the only thing I ever heard her say about it: 'Well, you know. You never know what you're going to do 'til you do it.' Best description of movie acting I ever heard."
Nichols then introduced a tribute to Streep, beginning with Academy Award and Tony Award-winning actor Kevin Kline, who co-starred with Streep in "Sophie's Choice." "Meryl doesn't take shortcuts. In her work, she insists on going the extra mile. Sometimes literally. We were doing our first dress rehearsal of 'Mother Courage' at the Delacourt Theater in Central Park. After 12 grueling hours of rehearsal in the sweltering heat in our winter-weight costumes - Meryl giving 110 percent, perfecting what would become a bravura performance, it's now midnight, I'm exhausted, we all are. I'm hailing a cab to take me three blocks to my house. And I see Meryl climbing on a bicycle. Now Meryl lives at the other end of Manhattan, about six miles away from Central Park. I tell her she's crazy as she peddles off into the dark New York streets and she yells over her shoulder, 'I have to build up my stamina!'" Golden Globe Award-winning actress Emily Blunt, who starred in "The Devil Wears Prada" with Streep, then took the stage, along with Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor Stanley Tucci, who further extrapolated upon Streep's many virtues. Then, Emmy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway, who also starred in "A Devil Wears Prada" with Streep, sang "She's Me Pal," joined by her fellow actors in honor of their leading lady.
Multiple Emmy Award and Grammy Award-winning actor, author and comedian Bill Cosby, a 1998 Kennedy Center Honoree, paid tribute to Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Sonny Rollins. Cosby recited stories of his travels all over the world, where in each country, everyone knew Rollins' music. He then shared how he disappointed a gardener at a hotel in the South of France, who kissed him and mistakenly thought he was Rollins. "All over the world, Sonny Rollins. And, Sonny, tonight, welcome home," said Cosby. Then, he introduced a musical tribute to Rollins that began with "Just in Time," performed by the Sonny Rollins All-Star Trio: jazz drummer Billy Drummond, Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano, and jazz bassist Christian McBride. They were joined by Ravi Coltrane, jazz saxophonist and son of famed jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. This was followed by "In a Sentimental Mood," performed by Academy Award and multiple Grammy Award-winning pianist, bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock, Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove and jazz guitarist Jim Hall. Up next were the Kennedy Center Honors Jazz Masters: jazz saxophonists Benny Golson and Jimmy Heath, with jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette, performing "Sonnymoon for Two." In closing, the musicians joined together to perform "St. Thomas," bringing the tribute to its rousing conclusion.
Multiple Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress Sarah Jessica Parker took the stage with her husband, Tony Award-winning stage and film actor Matthew Broderick, to talk about Tony Award and Grammy Award-winning singer and Broadway actress Barbara Cook's contributions to the world of musical theater. "When one thinks of New York City, many iconic images spring to mind: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Barbara Cook at the Caf� Carlyle belongs on that short list of beloved New York treasures," said Parker. Broderick continued, "Early on in our courtship, I took Sarah to see Ms. Cook at the Carlyle. You see I knew her a little bit, since I was a kid. She worked with my father, she was friendly with my parents, so I was able to parlay that association into a dressing room visit after the show."
"I was transported that evening. Having grown up endlessly playing my mother's recording of Barbara at Carnegie Hall, finally and at last seeing her perform live was for me one of those rare treats of a lifetime. And then to meet her backstage... well, of course, Matthew didn't know at the time what a special memory he was creating for us," exclaimed Parker.
Broderick continued, "Whether you are watching her on the Broadway stage, in a concert hall, an intimate nightclub or listening to one of her recordings at home, the thrill of Barbara Cook's voice, the scope of her talent, never ceases to amaze."
"And she is as beautiful and generous off stage as she is on, as I discovered after meeting her at the Caf� Carlyle those many years ago. Thank you, Barbara, for all of the music, the joy and longing and sadness and humor with which you infuse each song. You are unique and wondrous; yours is an extraordinary life, and you put every bit of it into your music," concluded Parker.
The duo then introduced a musical medley of memorable Broadway songs Cook had performed during her lengthy career, beginning with "This is All Very New to Me," performed by Laura Osnes, a young Broadway actress. This led into "Glitter & Be Gay," with Anna Christy, a soprano opera singer, performing. Then, multiple Tony Award nominees Kelli O'Hara and Rebecca Luker together sang, "Will I Ever Tell You" and "Will He Like Me." Golden Globe, Emmy Award and Tony Award-winning actress and singer Glenn Close took the stage next with "Losing My Mind," followed by Tony Award-winning actress and dancer Sutton Foster with "Everybody Says Don't." Tony Award-winning singer and actress Patti LuPone then sang a medley of "Loving You" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." Next, Tony Award and Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Audra McDonald sang "Till There Was You." In conclusion, all of the women returned to the stage to perform "Make Our Garden Grow," accompanied by the Choral Arts Society.
Golden Globe, Emmy Award and Tony Award-winning actor, musician and author John Lithgow paid tribute to Grammy Award-winning songwriter and musician Neil Diamond, stating, "All Neil Diamond wanted to be was a songwriter. One of the major turning points in modern pop music was the moment he decided that to get his music heard, he'd have to sing it. We all know about Neil Diamond's legendary performing superstardom - the millions who flock to his concerts and how much his performances have influenced music. And this year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And he's still that songwriter. His songs all seem tailored to his unique voice and presentation, but that hasn't stopped artists from the Monkees to Barbra Streisand from making hits of his songs... one of those hits is 'I'm a Believer.' It has been covered by, among many others, The Four Tops, The Ventures... Robert Wyatt... Barbara Mandrell, Weezer, Eddie Murphy, the aforesaid Monkees (who took it to #1), and Smash Mouth. It has played in at least three movies, becoming a hit, yet again, joining me on the 'Shrek' soundtrack. When it comes to Neil Diamond, I'm a believer. We're all believers."
The tribute to Diamond commenced with an exciting performance by Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and record producer Raphael Saadiq, singing a medley of Diamond hits, including "You Got Me," "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon" and "Cherry, Cherry," accompanied by the Rob Mathes band. Next was a tender performance of the Diamond hit, "Hello," by Grammy Award-winning country music artist Jennifer Nettles. Then, Academy Award, Golden Globe and Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and record producer Lionel Richie took the stage to perform "I Am... I Said." Finally, Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and 2006 Kennedy Center Honoree Smokey Robinson rocked the house with an amazing performance of "Sweet Caroline," joined by the rest of the performers and the audience.
Two-time Peabody Award, Grammy Award and multiple Emmy Award-winning political satirist and comedian Stephen Colbert spoke of multiple Grammy Award-winning musician Yo-Yo Ma, who is regarded as the most famous cellist of the modern age, calling him "...more than a musician, he is an adventurer. He has explored classical in all its forms - romantic, baroque, rococo. Solo, chamber, orchestral. Symphonies, sonatas, concertos. Double concertos. Venti double decaf concertos with a sonata shot." Colbert continued, "He has been fearless his whole life. When his family had just moved to the United States, they visited Washington and outside the White House, 6-year-old Yo-Yo walked up to a guard, touched his gun and asked, 'Is this real?' Yo-Yo, please don't do that tonight! And he is a fearless performer. He has done everything you can do with a cello except climb inside and ride it over Niagara Falls. But you know that if he ever did, he would totally redefine our preconceived notions of what it can sound like to plunge to your death in a cello." Colbert concluded, "When faced with such greatness, you have to ask, where did it come from? Of course, we've all heard the legend that Yo-Yo went down to the crossroads and met the Devil there. And the Devil said, 'I have the power to make you the greatest player in the world.' And Yo-Yo said, 'Oh, thank you very much.' And the Devil said, 'Tonight, I am gonna give your fingers the power to fly over those strings, when you play, men will weep and women will sigh. Just sell me your soul and I will make you, Yo-Yo Ma, the greatest blues guitarist of all time!' And Yo-Yo said, 'Well, that sounds lovely. But actually, I play the cello.' And the Devil said, 'The cello? Really?' Devil said, 'Wow, that's a tough instrument... I'm sorry, you're just gonna have to practice - a lot. Hey, good luck with that.' True story. And the thing is, Yo-Yo plays with such arresting beauty, that you're tempted to look for a supernatural explanation. But of course, there isn't any. So Yo-Yo... tonight we honor you, but not as much as you have honored us with the gift of your joy."
Multiple Daytime Emmy Award winner Elmo, who has had Yo-Yo Ma as a guest on "Sesame Street," was next, saying, "Hello everybody. Elmo came all the way from Sesame Street tonight to hang out with his good friend, Mr. Yo-Yo Ma. Yeah, baby. But Mr. Ma, how can you and Elmo have a playdate when you're all the way up there with, with... with... Sonny Rollins! That's so cool! Mr. Ma taught Elmo that music is like a playground - there are so many ways to have fun. Wow. That's what Mr. Ma does. He plays and plays and plays and makes everybody happy. Elmo wants to have some musical fun right now. That's why he's invited some friends over to play in Mr. Ma's musical playground."
Elmo then introduced a musical tribute to Yo-Yo Ma entitled "Symphony for the Eagle." The first movement was a classical quintet performing Schumann's "Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44: I Allegro," with musicians Emanuel Ax (piano), Jaime Laredo (violin), Pamela Frank (violin), Lynn Chang (violin) and Sharon Robinson (cello). The second movement was an Appalachia/Bluegrass piece called "Atta Boy" with musicians Edgar Meyer (leader/bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle) and Chris Thile (mandolin). The third movement was world music entitled "Turceasca," performed by The Silk Road Ensemble. The final movement involved all the performers, with Academy Award, Golden Globe and multiple Grammy Award-winning composer John Williams, a 2004 Kennedy Center Honoree, conducting. The musicians were then joined by multiple Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and guitarist James Taylor, and the Joyce Garrett Youth Choir, for a moving finale of "Here Comes The Sun," which brought the evening to its stirring conclusion.
THE 34TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS is a production of the Kennedy Center. George Stevens Jr., who created the Honors in 1978 with Nick Vanoff, produced and co-wrote the show for the 34th year. Michael Stevens was co-producer and co-writer. Earlier this year, the show received an Emmy Award for the third consecutive year for Outstanding Variety, Musical or Comedy Special. The KENNEDY CENTER 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.
RATING: To Be Announced