AN EXTRAORDINARY MIX OF RENOWNED ARTISTS GATHER IN WASHINGTON, D.C. TO SALUTE THIS YEAR'S HONOREES AT "THE 30TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS," TO BE BROADCAST WEDNESDAY, DEC. 26 ON THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK
Leon Fleisher, Steve Martin, Diana Ross, Martin Scorsese and Brian Wilson
Are the Honorees for the 30th Anniversary of this Acclaimed Annual Special
Caroline Kennedy Hosts for Fifth Consecutive Year
The cast includes Yolanda Adams, Jonathan Biss, Steve Carell, Kristin Chenoweth, Ciara, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, Cameron Diaz, Art Garfunkel,
Hootie & The Blowfish, Terrence Howard, Bill Irwin, Ricky Jay, Jaime Laredo, Libera,
Lyle Lovett, Yo-Yo Ma, Anna Netrebko, Smokey Robinson, Earl Scruggs,
Martin Short, Jordin Sparks and Vanessa Williams
President and Mrs. George W. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Richard B. Cheney
And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Are Among the Political Attendees
Eminent artist friends and peers of this year's five honorees converged in Washington, D.C. last night (Dec. 2) to present entertaining and heartfelt tributes at THE 30TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, an entertainment special to be broadcast Wednesday, Dec. 26 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network with Caroline Kennedy as host for the fifth consecutive year. This marks the 30th anniversary of this acclaimed special, which has been broadcast on CBS each year since its debut in 1978. George Stevens, Jr. is head writer and producer for the 30th consecutive year. Pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher, actor and writer Steve Martin, singer and actress Diana Ross, film director Martin Scorsese, and songwriter and singer Brian Wilson were all present at the black-tie gala in their honor.
This 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 remains secret prior to the gala, and a short biographical film is featured during each honoree's tribute.
Included in the cast are Yolanda Adams, Jonathan Biss, Steve Carell, Kristin Chenoweth, Ciara, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, Cameron Diaz, Art Garfunkel, Hootie & The Blowfish, Terrence Howard, Bill Irwin, Ricky Jay, Jaime Laredo, Libera, Lyle Lovett, Yo-Yo Ma, Anna Netrebko, Smokey Robinson, Earl Scruggs, Martin Short, Jordin Sparks and Vanessa Williams.
Additional performers include the Rob Mathes Band, the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra, The Choral Arts Society and the Joyce Garrett Choir.
President and Mrs. George W. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Richard B. Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are seated with the honorees in the presidential box in the Opera House of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, after having just attended the traditional White House reception for the honorees.
Host Caroline Kennedy commences the festivities by quoting her father, President John F. Kennedy, who, in a 1963 address to honor poet Robert Frost, said, "I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist." Caroline Kennedy next acknowledges that it's been 30 years since the Kennedy Center Honors celebrated its first honorees, Marian Anderson, Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Richard Rodgers and Arthur Rubinstein. She describes the five 2007 honorees as "a piano prodigy from the Golden Gate who rose to the heights, embraced adversity and became a musician for all seasons; the Beach Boy troubadour of California girls and good vibrations who showed that rock n' roll is, indeed, fun, fun, fun; a raven-haired beauty from Motown who proved that, for her, no mountain was ever high enough; a keen- eyed boy who emerged from the mean streets of Little Italy and became a patron saint of American cinema, and a lad who started with a magic act and a banjo became wild and crazy, and proved just how amusing jerks and dirty rotten scoundrels can be."
Multiple Golden Globe Award nominee Cameron Diaz kicks off Martin Scorsese's homage, reminiscing about how she savored her six months in Rome working on Scorsese's film "Gangs of New York." She likens the experience to a master class of filmmaking, and she relays how she even went to set on her days off to hear what Scorsese had to say. "He would start off the day by painting a picture of what it was like at that time for us ... All of the nuances and textures were so important to him... In many ways, I think Marty is sort of the greatest musician of movies. He has that sensitivity to know that music can express more than words or pictures. And he uses a conductor's flair to intertwine all of his colors - the pictures, the words, the faces and the music - to create his art." Diaz adds, "He also understands the other side of us - our humor, our funny failings - and he knows how to utilize this to sublime effect. If you ask Marty, he will tell you, without missing a beat, that 'Goodfellas' is a comedy. (The audience bursts out laughing, and Scorsese smirks and shrugs.)... Diaz concludes, "Marty made his dreams come, and he has made dreams come true for all of us who stand before his camera. Dream maker, myth maker - Martin Scorsese is one for the ages, and I am blessed to be able to just call him 'my friend.'"
Francis Ford Coppola recalls having met Scorsese and Scorsese's parents years ago - and having felt like they - and their food - were very familiar to him. Says Coppola, "I can still cook many of his mother's dishes." He also shares how once he and Scorsese rigged a 16 mm film projector to stir the tomato sauce they were making to enable them to leave the kitchen to go to the movies together. Per Coppola, the sauce ended up being just right. He also praises Scorsese as having been "a fabulous educator" at New York University, and a director of monumental films such as "Raging Bull." He shares that he's amazed by the depth and range of Scorsese's work in films, illustrated by his films "King of Comedy" and "Kundun." He also refers to Scorsese as "the other Italian director." Coppola gets a big laugh from the crowd and a smile from Scorsese, when he reveals that people often confuse his films with Scorsese's and say, 'I think Goodfellas is much better than The Godfather.'"
Robert De Niro, who has starred in eight Scorsese films, for which De Niro garnered an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, both for "Raging Bull," as well as two Academy Award nominations and three Golden Globe nominations for a few of his additional Scorsese film roles, next arrives on the stage. Scorsese appears to be both surprised and delighted at seeing De Niro, who remarks, "If Marty had been shooting my entrance, the camera would have picked me up in New York leaving my apartment, and tracked me all the way here without one cut. It would have been accompanied by a great rock song. And, who knows? Maybe a couple of guys get hurt along the way. (The audience laughs.) Backstage I was watching the video of Marty's amazing career and all I can think is, 'My God, Marty's done a lot' - he must be really old!' Thing is, we used to be the same age, but now, Marty, you're like a father figure." (Laughter fills the room - and then some applause. Scorsese chuckles as well.) Later De Niro adds, "You still have the same passion, drive and intensity you had when we were starting out together. As for me? Well, I'm doing comedy. (More laughter) But don't worry, Marty, I still have enough misery in me for us to do a few more pictures together. Just think, if you were directing me tonight in the Kennedy Center Honors, I would have already whacked Steve Martin. (The audience is in hysterics, and Scorsese nods in agreement with De Niro to an amused Martin who is seated next to Scorsese.) You know, it feels a little silly talking to a close friend from this distance. But the Secret Service has seen me in some of your movies, and this is the closest they'll let me get to the President. (To the audience) I could go on, but even all the way down here, I can feel Marty getting jittery. I can just about hear him mumbling under his breath: (mimicking Scorsese) 'Okay we got it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now let's move on!'" In closing, De Niro says, "Here we are at the Kennedy Center, where you are being honored for everything you've done. It's not a lifetime achievement award - there's still a lot to do. And, I know, my friend, we'll get to do some of it together."
After referencing Scorsese's mother's love of Italian opera, which Scorsese shares and often incorporates into his films, Kennedy introduces singer Anna Netrebko, from the Metropolitan Opera, who performs "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi."
Golden Globe Award-winner and Emmy Award nominee Steve Carell arrives on stage and immediately gets laughs by acting as if he's there to recite a verbal tribute to Martin Scorsese. After Caroline Kennedy enters the stage and whispers in Carell's ear, interrupting Carell's "homage to Scorsese," Carell pauses and then deadpans, "Steve Martin is a national treasure." (This elicits more laughs from the audience members and Martin, too.) Carell then shares that he first saw Martin perform in 1978 at the Hines Auditorium in Boston: "I saw a man with an arrow through his head. I witnessed the phenomenon of 'Happy Feet' as he moved spastically about the stage. I saw a balloon animal depiction of venereal disease. His act was that of an idiot savant - minus savant. (The crowd, Martin and The First Lady chuckle.) Carell adds, in a mock indignant tone, that Martin "has deceived us by playing the fool... He is a 'wild and crazy guy' but he is also a collector of fine art. He is an accomplished author of novels and plays, but is also "The Jerk"... The fact of the matter is that he is even smarter than he is letting on. He is toying with us. Look at him... Look at his face... He is laughing at you. (Martin plays along and mimes exaggerated laughter.) He mocks us for his own sick twisted personal pleasure. (Martin displays a Cheshire cat grin.) And for this, I think, we owe him our thanks." In closing, Carell says, in a sincere tone, "I am in awe of Steve Martin. I admire his career, and I respect him more than anyone... with the possible exception of Martin Scorsese." (The crowd cracks up and applauds - and Martin and Scorsese smile and look at each other.)
Next, after revealing that a poster from 1967 celebrating Martin's debut at the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott's Berry Farm billed him as "a fantastically clever comedian, magician, banjo player and all-around good guy," Carell introduces a Vaudeville-themed homage to Martin, which features numerous nods to the props, costumes, routines and songs from Martin's beloved standup-comedy acts and films. After four female dancers with bunny ears and white blazers perform the lively song "All of Me," sleight-of-hand artist/magician and Martin friend, Ricky Jay, performs a card trick, which receives applause from the audience and a delighted Martin. Next the dancers, sans bunny ears, sing/dance "The Thermos Song" from "The Jerk," after which silent clown/actor Bill Irwin, who co-starred in a Lincoln Center production of "Waiting for Godot" with Martin, appears wearing a wig, a false nose and glasses and a graduation cap and gown that morphs into a tuxedo. Irwin launches into his notable silent physical comedy, portraying a waiter who is attempting to impress one of the dancers who is now playing a patron at a restaurant. At the end of Irwin's routine, Martin Short's head bursts through the front of Irwin's flowing jacket as an ode to Martin's The Great Flydini act. With only his head visible, Short, a friend and former co-star of Martin's ("The Three Amigos!") sings a few notes of "Pagliacci" a cappella, which greatly amuses the audience. Short then launches into a funny, fast-paced address: "You know, Steve, it's such a thrill to be here this evening. Actually it's more than a thrill, it's an obligation. When I think of your career, and it's not often, I'm reminded of my own humble beginnings..." after which Irwin pushes Short's head out of sight, ending Short's entertaining cameo appearance.
Then the Grammy Award-winning banjo phenomenon Earl Scruggs, who inspired Martin to play the banjo, and with whom Martin has since played and recorded on several occasions, is joined by his son Randy Scruggs, on guitar, and violinist Mark O'Connor to play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." At the end of the song, Steve mouths "Thank you!" to the performers with a wide, appreciative smile.
Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth, who starred in "The Pink Panther" with Martin, next enters the stage as the dancers, now donning Egyptian golden cobra headpieces, complete their "King Tut" number. Soon, alone on the stage, Chenoweth brings Martin's tribute to a close by singing the title song from his film "Pennies from Heaven."
The legendary Smokey Robinson, a 2006 honoree, begins the tribute for his long-time friend, Diana Ross, by playfully recalling his earliest memories of her. "It's a story that a lot of guys know. You're out there hanging. You're in your early teens - cool as cool can be - doing whatever it is with your buddies and there's this young girl, the kid sister/tomboy type, hanging around trying to get in on things. Any you just can't get rid of her ... What I didn't realize growing up four doors down from Diana was that her early sweet persistence would result in a friendship that has lasted our lifetimes. (The crowd applauds.) And what I did realize was, that man, she could sing." He continues to reminisce about how hard-working she was as she attempted to get her group noticed in Motown, and, with some of his help as a Motown insider with the Miracles as well as a song-writer, it wasn't long before the Supremes achieved the success Ross deserved. Before he leaves the stage, Ross blows Robinson a big kiss.
Ross looks pleased to see her next presenter, Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe Award nominee Terrence Howard, who met Ross on the set of his film "Pride," in which Ross's son, Evan, had a major role. Howard shares that he was a Physics major and talks a bit about stars - and how Ross is like the celestial bodies that create a force of power that draws everything to it. Continuing the metaphor, he says that everyone has gathered to bask in Ross's light and to offer her thanks.
Ross's musical tribute starts with Jordin Sparks, who sang Ross's "If We Hold on Together" as a contestant on "American Idol," the competition show she ultimately won last season. In the special, Sparks, backed by the Rob Mathes band, sings a rousing Supremes medley of "Back in My Arms Again," "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Someday We'll Be Together." Ross claps along and grins from ear to ear. Ross appears genuinely touched by the performance of Tony Award nominee and Emmy Award nominee Vanessa Williams, who belts out "Touch Me in the Morning." Next, Grammy Award winning R&B/pop singer Ciara starts performing "I'm Coming Out" while sashaying toward the stage from the audience level's side aisle. She's soon on the stage, joined by a set of four male hip-hop dancers who dance in synch around her. Ciara continues by singing "Upside Down," after which Ross claps enthusiastically.
The finale of Ross's tribute features the Multi Grammy Award-winner Gospel singer Yolanda Adams singing the soulful "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," accompanied by the Joyce Garrett Choir. Ross and many of the enchanted audience members each sway one of their arms above their heads in synch with the song.
World-renowned Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma begins the tribute to Leon Fleisher and recalls, "When I was in college, my roommate and I were mesmerized by the Fleisher recording of the Brahms first piano concerto. I was 19, and that music is still seared in my memory... By the time he was 29, Leon had already taken his place as one of the world's foremost pianists. Suddenly something happened to the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand. They curled under and he could no longer play. He said, 'Sometimes fate has something else in mind for us.' He began a career as a teacher and conductor." Yo-Yo Ma later shares, "The most important thing that Leon has taught me is not about a piece of music, but a concept.... Most musicians' skills lie in their ability to be expressive in this non-verbal medium. Leon has the additional gifts of communicating ideas and concepts tactilely, viscerally, emotionally, spiritually and verbally. He has conveyed in music all that is precious to him. Generations of musicians - including this one - have been truly blessed to hear him perform and receive his teaching."
Fleisher friend and musical partner Jaime Laredo, who met his wife thanks to Fleisher, shares how he, like Yo-Yo Ma, bought Fleisher's recording of the Brahms D Minor Piano Concerto as a teenage student. "I thought it was the most monumental performance I ever heard. Fifty years later, I still think the same thing." Laredo then conducts Fleisher's student/colleague, the renowned young pianist Jonathan Biss, and the Peabody Orchestra, from the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University where Fleisher has taught for nearly 50 years, as they perform Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy." They are accompanied by The Choral Arts Society.
Multi Grammy Award-winner Art Garfunkel opens the tribute to Brian Wilson, stating, "To me rock 'n roll is our great American invention and the fact that you, Brian, are one of its architects makes me proud of who we are as a country." He later adds, "It was a sound that we had never heard before. It was revolutionary, something heaven-sent. It was this unique, crazy creation: a mix of rock n' roll and heart-felt prayer. When I heard 'Good Vibrations' for the first time on the radio, I called Paul (Simon) and said, 'I think I just heard the greatest record of them all'... The freedom of his moves as producer/arranger of Pet Sounds is spectacular - seminal. It led to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, which led to our Book Ends. Brian showed us all the endless possibilities in what's been recorded and how it can be layered and combined or subtracted to create something eternal." In closing, Garfunkel says, "To me, calling someone musical is the highest praise. Meaning they're 'tuned' as human beings. When I hear Brian's chord changes showing this yearning, teenage sentiment I'm soulfully and deeply attached to where Brian is coming from. He is in the world of his own vibrations saying heart-wrenching things in a way that only music can. This is Brian's ever-lasting legacy not just to rock 'n roll, but to music itself."
As part of the musical homage for Wilson, multi Grammy Award-winner Lyle Lovett croons "God Only Knows." Next Hootie and the Blowfish rock the house with a Beach Boys medley of "I Get Around," "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "California Girls," the last of which inspires the entire audience, including the honorees and President, to stand, clap and sway to the uplifting beat. Next, Libera, a boys' choir from South London, poignantly sings "Love and Mercy," accompanied by The Choral Arts Society. Toward the end of the song, numerous beach balls start to slowly descend from the rafters, and the audience members are soon batting them around the hall. The performance of "Love and Mercy" moves Ross to tears. Wilson gestures his appreciation to the performers - and seems pleased to grab hold of one of the beach balls that comes his way.
As beach balls continue to be batted about the Opera House, Kennedy brings the 30th anniversary special to an end by thanking the honorees, who take their final bow during the enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience members.
THE 30TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 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 30th consecutive year. The Honors telecast has been honored with five Emmy Awards for Outstanding Program. It has also been recognized with the Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television and seven awards from the Writers Guild of America. THE 30TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS is sponsored in part by General Motors.
RATING: To Be Announced