EMINENT ARTISTS FROM BROADWAY, NASHVILLE, MOTOWN, HOLLYWOOD AND AROUND THE GLOBE CONVERGE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. TO SALUTE THIS YEAR'S HONOREES AT "THE 29th ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS," TO BE BROADCAST TUESDAY, DEC. 26 ON THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Zubin Mehta, Dolly Parton, Smokey Robinson
And Steven Spielberg Are This Year's Honorees
Caroline Kennedy Hosts for Fourth Consecutive Year
Performers and Presenters Include India.Arie, Harolyn Blackwell, Sarah Brightman,
Betty Buckley, Cee-Lo, Suzanne Cox, Christine Ebersole, Aretha Franklin, Vince Gill, Corey Glover, Josh Groban, Tom Hanks, Alison Krauss, Jonny Lang, Reba McEntire,
Sam Moore, Liam Neeson, Itzhak Perlman, Elena Roger, Kenny Rogers, Jessica Simpson, The Temptations, Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, Cheryl White,
Reese Witherspoon, John Williams and Pinchas Zukerman
President and Mrs. George W. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Richard B. Cheney
And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Are
Among the Gala's High-Ranking Political Attendees
A multitude of renowned artist friends and peers of this year's five honorees gathered in Washington, D.C. last night (Dec. 3) to present poignant and festive performances and verbal tributes at THE 29TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, an entertainment special, to be broadcast Tuesday, Dec. 26 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network with Caroline Kennedy as host for the fourth consecutive year. George Stevens, Jr. is head writer and producer for the 29th consecutive year. Musical theater composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, conductor Zubin Mehta, country singer and songwriter Dolly Parton, singer, songwriter and producer Smokey Robinson, and film director and producer Steven Spielberg were each present at the black-tie gala in their honor.
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. Further keeping with tradition, the roster of presenters and performers remains secret prior to the gala, and a short biographical film is presented during each honoree's tribute.
Among the performers and presenters are India.Arie, Harolyn Blackwell, Sarah Brightman, Betty Buckley, Cee-Lo, Suzanne Cox, Glenn Dicterow, Christine Ebersole, Aretha Franklin, Vince Gill, Corey Glover, Josh Groban, Tom Hanks, Alison Krauss, Jonny Lang, Reba McEntire, Sam Moore, Liam Neeson, Itzhak Perlman, Elena Roger, Kenny Rogers, Jessica Simpson, The Temptations, Shania Twain, Gregory Turay, Carrie Underwood, Cheryl White, Reese Witherspoon, John Williams and Pinchas Zukerman and guest conductors Lt. Col. John Clanton and Simon Lee.
Additional performers include The Choral Arts Society, The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Rob Mathes Band and The United States Army Chorus.
President and Mrs. George W. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Richard B. Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are present with the honorees in the presidential box, having just come from the customary White House reception for the honorees.
Host Caroline Kennedy opens the night quoting her father who, more than 40 years ago as President, said, "I look forward to an America that will not be afraid of grace and beauty; that will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft." She adds, "Tonight as we celebrate extraordinary artists who embody that grace and beauty, we come closer to his dream for this great country." She then describes this year's honorees as, "A musical theater man from London who proved for certain that 'Cats' can have more than nine lives; a movie-mad kid from Arizona whose visionary eye has made him our storyteller-in-chief; a soaring songbird from the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee who made us say, 'We will always love you;' a musical prodigy from Bombay who made conducting his life and the world his stage; and a quiet storm from Detroit's North End whose songs of love made us all wish he was 'our' guy."
After the audience is shown a brief video of President Bush's remarks to the honorees from the White House reception earlier in the evening, Smokey Robinson's tribute begins.
Robinson beams when his friend Aretha Franklin, a 1994 Honoree, enters the stage. Franklin soon shares that she met him at her father's Detroit home, a block from where Robinson was raised, when he was 10-years-old and she was six. She continues, "This beautiful, kind man -- who wrote and sang poetically and un-selfconsciously about love -- helped to make the Motown sound world-famous, redefining popular music in the '60s, using the connective power of song to break down the barriers of black and white ... In Detroit in one place in 1965, you could see Mary Wells, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, Little Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. And, you still hadn't seen the closing artists, Smokey and the Miracles. All of that talent benefited from the writing and producing of Smokey and the guiding brilliance of one man we cannot forget tonight, (announcing his presence in the audience) ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Berry Gordy." (Gordy, a record producer/Motown Records founder, briefly stands to acknowledge the applauding crowd.) Continues Franklin, "Berry and Smokey were the unstoppable pairing of Motown, showing the music world that a black-owned record label could produce songs that made the whole world sing." Franklin later recalls a home-sick night away from Detroit early in her career in 1965 when she first realized that Robinson had truly made it.
"'Going to a Go-Go' was a real smash and his success gave me great hope that my career would find its way as well. In 1967 I had my first hit. (She looks up toward Robinson in the presidential box.) Smokey, I found inspiration in your success to sing these words and they are especially true tonight: (She belts out the lyrics.) 'Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman -- woman." (Robinson smiles and, like the rest of the audience, applauds.) In closing, Franklin says, "I adore you, William 'Smokey' Robinson," adding that she especially loves that he never let success change him.
After a short musical medley of the Robinson songs "Shop Around," "Ooo Baby Baby" and "Get Ready" is performed by a band assembled and directed by Rob Mathes, Gnarls Barkley's rapper/singer Cee-Lo sings "The Tears of a Clown." Grammy Award-winner and Detroit native India.Arie follows by singing "I Second that Emotion," after which she and Cee- Lo both sing "Going to a Go-Go."
Next, Sam Moore, the Grammy-winning singer of the classic song "Soul Man," and blues-rock guitarist/singer Jonny Lang perform the soulful "The Tracks of My Tears." Lastly, the Motown singing-sensations and Robinson collaborators The Temptations bring down the house as they sing and dance in synch to the joyful rhythms of "Get Ready," "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "My Girl." Robinson claps along enthusiastically, as do the rest of the honorees and attendees, who go crazy when the band plays the first few notes of "My Girl."
Violinist Itzhak Perlman, a 2003 Honoree, begins the salute to Zubin Mehta. He shares that he first performed with Mehta about 40 years ago and continues to be in awe of the energy and warmth Mehta exudes as he conducts. Perlman credits Mehta as being one of the few conductors who is beloved by the majority of his players, citing Mehta's record-breaking previous 14 year term as music director of the New York Philharmonic and his Music Director for Life status with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Says Perlman, "There is no conductor with whom I have performed more and no closer friend whom I want to have on the podium next to me ... He has that esoteric quality that defines a great Maestro. He is magical, larger than life. His knowledge of the orchestral repertoire is astounding. He can look at a score and practically know it by heart the next day. His control of the orchestra is remarkable and the drama he infuses into his music making is his great musical trademark." Adds Perlman, "He is the kindest man I know ... He cares for his friends and colleagues and also for the rank and file musicians of the various orchestras, which were lucky to have him as their music director. Zubin is what we call in Yiddish a 'mensch.' Loosely translated, a 'mensch' is a person who is worthy and is full of good deeds. (He addresses Mehta directly.) A mensch you are indeed, my dear friend, Zubin. Thank you."
Introducing the next part of the tribute, Perlman states, "There are thousands of musicians who have played for Zubin Mehta. Tonight, two of them are here to salute him on his night of honor." Glenn Dicterow, Concert Master of the New York Philharmonic, and Zeev Dorman, the first bassoonist of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, then enter the stage. Dicterow praises Mehta's passion as well as his ability to make those in the orchestra feel like they are collaborating with him and not merely following Mehta's directions. Dorman expresses his gratitude to Mehta for his positive contribution to Israel's culture by inspiring the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to "give and receive the gift of music" during the worrisome war times as well as during times of peace.
Perlman then shares his delight at being able to reveal the surprise that Mehta will also be saluted by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra colleagues from Tel Aviv (causing Mehta to smile excitedly) and by Mehta's friend Pinchas Zukerman, who simultaneously plays the violin and conducts the orchestra to perform Fritz Kreisler's "Liebeslied" and "Liebesfreud." Celebrated stage performer Sarah Brightman begins the tribute of her ex-husband, Andrew Lloyd Webber, whom she relays she met in 1981 when she auditioned for his newest musical of the time, "Cats." She ended up starring in that production and several more of his musicals, and she originated the role of Christine in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway. Declares Brightman, "At this very moment, somewhere in the world, the curtain is going up on an Andrew Lloyd Webber show. 'The Phantom of the Opera' is thrilling audiences in New York, London, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Budapest. 'Evita' has risen to power in London -- again. 'Cats' is prowling the U.K., Holland, Poland -- and even Nebraska." Brightman continues, "He is forever testing himself, questioning and moving forward with his music. As soon as he has completed one project he is onto the next with all the love, enthusiasm and nervousness of a newcomer. When he is composing he only looks as if he's in the room with you. In reality, he is far, far away, in some exalted place where there is only him and the notes. But, when he comes back, he brings with him music that is exciting, moving and beautiful. He brings a vision that makes an unforgettable experience out of a story set to song. That is why tonight and every night, people around the world are going to see Andrew Lloyd Webber shows ... his music of the night is music for all time." Lloyd Webber's musical tribute starts with Corey Glover, the lead singer of the Grammy-winning rock band Living Colour, who is currently touring in a production of Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ, Superstar." In a lively production number from that musical, Glover sings and dances to "Superstar." Next, Tony Award-winner Christine Ebersole then takes the stage alone to sing "As if We Never Said Goodbye" from "Sunset Boulevard." She's followed by a rousing production number of "Buenos Aires" from "Evita," headlined by the Argentine actress Elena Roger, who is currently starring in "Evita" in London. Then, pop and classical singer Josh Groban sings a stirring rendition of "Music of the Night" from "The Phantom of the Opera" that brings tears to Lloyd Webber's eyes. Brightman, who starred in the original London production of "Cats," then begins singing the show's well-known song "Memory" accompanied by the orchestra conducted by Simon Lee. Soon Brightman alternates singing the moving tune with Betty Buckley, who starred in the musical's original Broadway production and earned a Tony Award for the role.
Dolly Parton is honored next and is clearly elated to see Reba McEntire walk onto the stage. McEntire reminisces about her first meeting with her idol, Parton, in 1977 when McEntire was making her debut at the Grand Ole Opry. Per McEntire, "As I am backstage getting ready, the stage manager comes over and says: 'We're going to have to cut one of your songs. Dolly Parton just walked in the back door, and Dolly is going to sing!'" McEntire confesses that she was so thrilled to meet Parton, that (addressing Parton) 'I would have gladly given you both of my songs just to be in the same building with you!" McEntire next credits some positive strides in Nashville within the past few decades to Parton. "Once upon a time a woman in Nashville was told what song to sing, in what clothes and just how to sit on the stool while singing it. Because of Dolly we've been writing, producing and singing our own music for some time now, not to mention finding ourselves in movies and starring in our own television shows." McEntire also references Parton's Imagination Library foundation, which in the past year has provided over two million books to children between the ages of one and five. In closing, McEntire says, "I feel very blessed that now I've gotten to work with Dolly several times. Dolly always has a way of making everyone feel like they are the only one in the room." She looks up toward Parton and says playfully, "You've just got that gift, girl. And, far beyond all of your many talents, it's the one I love about you the most."
Reese Witherspoon relays to the audience, "Like a lot of little girls growing up in the South, I grew up loving Dolly Parton. Every Sunday night I'd stay up and watch her variety show with my mother, mouthing all the words to every single one of her songs ... My first real stage experience was in the third grade talent show and that was an ode to Dolly's performance in 'Nine to Five' ... So, I guess you could say I didn't just love Dolly, I wanted to be Dolly. Literally." Witherspoon adds, "She was blonde; I was blonde. She was from Tennessee; I'm from Tennessee. She has an amazing figure (she glances down and deadpans) ... I was from Tennessee." (The crowd laughs -- as does Parton.) Witherspoon reveals that she finally met Parton when friends orchestrated a surprise meeting during Witherspoon's publicity shoot at June and Johnny Cash's home for "Walk the Line." Though she ended up winning an Academy Award for her portrayal of June, she says, "I was terrified by how my performance would be perceived by the country music community, the community I grew up in," and adds she was particularly concerned about what Parton would think. Witherspoon conveys that she was so overwhelmed at meeting Parton that she burst into joyful tears when it happened. Later Witherspoon adds, "This dignified, spiritual and caring woman happens also to be a hoot. Her laugh is infectious. Have you ever heard of Dolly-isms?" She does a few light-hearted imitations of Parton, including: "'Reese, I don't get offended by dumb blonde jokes because I know I'm not dumb, and I know that I'm definitely not blonde' (which elicits a laugh from the crowd) ... 'You know, sweetie, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.'" (This gets more laughs -- and applause, too.) In closing, Witherspoon says, "What attracts me most to Dolly is that she's never forgotten where she's from. She's the keeper of the Smokey Mountain traditions and Bluegrass music -- and a real historian of a culture that promotes doing for others rather than for yourself; one that embraces community, human dignity in the face of adversity and a deep, spiritual connection to the Land. One that takes great pleasure in seeing its spoken and musical traditions passed down from one generation to the next."
An array of country music's biggest stars take part in Parton's musical tribute, including Carrie Underwood, the Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year. Underwood kicks it off, singing "Islands in the Stream," and is soon joined on stage and in song by Kenny Rogers, who recorded this romantic hit duet with Parton. As soon as Rogers makes his way out onto the stage, Parton, wearing a shimmering white sequined gown, jumps to her feet and claps enthusiastically. Parton proceeds to sing along with them from her seat.
Next, multi-Grammy Award winner Alison Krauss sings "My Tennessee Mountain Home" and "Jolene," accompanied by singers Suzanne Cox and Cheryl White and backed by a band. While seated on a stool, Shania Twain sings "Coat of Many Colors," while playing her guitar and being accompanied vocally by Krauss. Next, Jessica Simpson takes the stage and sings the lively "9 to 5," followed by Vince Gill, who croons the tribute's closing song, "I Will Always Love You." When the performers, presenters and audience members give Parton a standing ovation, she stands and proudly and playfully shows off the Kennedy Center Honor rainbow ribbon she's wearing around her neck.
Liam Neeson launches the Steven Spielberg homage stating, "I had the good fortune to work with Steven on 'Schindler's List,'" after which the audience surprises him by breaking into applause. (Neeson earned an Academy Award nomination for his lead role in that poignant film.) Continues Neeson, "That was a time when as never before, (Spielberg) certainly expanded his own horizon. This was the first film he worked on without a storyboard, and, as he related later, it was on 'Schindler's List' that he became fully aware of the profound power of the cinematic image on an audience." Adds Neeson, "Dedicated to telling this terrifying story of the Holocaust and redemption, he shared with all of us on set his vulnerability and fear at the magnitude of his task, and we adored him for it. His honesty inspired all us actors to share our fear and vulnerability. Like the leader he is, his passionate certainty for how he wanted to tell this story allowed us to follow him into emotional places we might not have had the courage to go. He pushed us hard with an urgency to make his vision a reality."
Next, Tom Hanks, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" and who also starred in Spielberg's "Catch Me if You Can" and "The Terminal," shares light-heartedly how Spielberg had managed to spend most of the summer between his junior and senior year of high school hanging around the soundstages and wandering the backlot of Universal studios, watching the filming and taping of films and TV shows. Says Hanks, "He boldly strolled through the front gate of Universal, doing his best to look like he was an employee, granting Scotty the gate guard a confident wave, and then, miraculously, succeeding in the masquerade. Steven Spielberg, the actor, trespassed onto the lot and had all of Universal Studios as his personal fiefdom ... One day he snuck onto the stage where Hitchcock -- Alfred Hitchcock -- was directing 'Torn Curtain' to see the master of suspense do what he wanted to do himself. It was Hitchcock and Spielberg, together for the first and only time -- right up until the moment he was thrown off the set by Alfred Hitchcock!" (The audience laughs.) Hanks later adds, "It would be hard to imagine the business of 'show' without Steven Spielberg ... Without Steven's work illuminating our theaters and our lives, Professor Jones would never have left campus, E.T. would never have wandered into Elliot's backyard, Schindler would still have made his list of life -- but Private Ryan would have never made it home ... He let us visit impossibilities, revisit history and experience the grand enlightenment that comes in the light projected from the back of the theater when one of his films plays."
Hanks then introduces several decorated World War II veterans who pay tribute to Spielberg. The audience applauds the men heartily after hearing each of their phenomenal battle-related accomplishments, and Spielberg looks moved. The first is First Sgt. Leonard Lomell of the D company 2nd Ranger Battalion, who landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day and, for his achievements, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Next, is Staff Sgt. Thomas Blakey of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, who parachuted into Normandy behind enemy lines on June 5, 1944; jumped again during the Allied invasion of Holland; fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor in combat. Capt. Charles Edward McGee of the 302nd Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group was one of the famed Tuskegee Airman who flew 136 missions, including 54 strategic escort missions, over Europe. His group was the only one during the war that never lost a plane they were escorting to enemy fire. Staff Sgt. Walter Ehlers of the 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division who, like Lomell, landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day, was, for his heroic acts, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lastly, Hanks announces Pvt. Hal Baumgarten of the B Company, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, who was awarded two Bronze Star Medals. Baumgarten reveals that he was briefly portrayed in "Saving Private Ryan" in the scene where a soldier with a Star of David on his back dives out of the Higgins Boat on Omaha Beach. Addressing Spielberg, Baumgarten says, "All of us are here this evening to thank you for putting our story on film so that future generations will remember. Thank you, Steven, for telling it exactly the way it happened." The honorees and audience members respond by giving all of the men a standing ovation.
Remarking that it was these heroes and others like them who helped end the war in Europe and liberate the concentration camps, Hanks introduces concentration camp survivor Renee Firestone, who was 20-years-old when she was freed. Firestone, who is featured in the Spielberg-produced Academy Award-winning documentary, "The Last Days," makes reference to The Shoah Foundation, the non-profit organization founded by Spielberg after he directed "Schindler's List." Says Firestone, "Those of us who survived the Holocaust were worried that soon our stories would be forgotten." After sharing that The Shoah Foundation has recorded many thousands of survivors' testimonies, Firestone says to Spielberg, "These stories would have never been heard, but because of your wisdom, your caring and your generosity, they will be heard by generations to come." Parton leans over to Spielberg and appears to give him her own words of praise.
Next, Hanks says, "In 1944 there were more than 16 million men and women in uniform, and this was a song that America was singing." After which The United States Army Chorus performs "I'll Be Seeing You" a capella.
Conductor John Williams, a 2004 Honoree, says, "Steven, sharing our 34-year collaboration has been a great privilege for me. It's been an inspiration to watch you dream your dreams, nurture them and make them grow. And, in the process, entertain and edify billions of people around the world. Tonight we'd like to salute you, musically, with a piece that expresses that spirit beautifully ... It was written by Leonard Bernstein, a 1980 Kennedy Center Honoree who was, incidentally, the first composer to be performed in this hall." Backed by The United States Army Chorus and The Choral Arts Society, soprano Harolyn Blackwell and tenor Gregory Turay sing the closing number for Spielberg's tribute and the gala itself. It's the finale to the opera "Candide," "Make Our Garden Grow," and Williams conducts. In closing, host Caroline Kennedy says, "So now it's time to ring down the curtain; tonight's celebration has come to an end. But, for our honorees, (addressing them) for you the show will always go on." After which, the honorees take their final bow during the enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience members.
THE 29TH 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 29th consecutive year. The Honors telecast has been honored with five Emmys for Outstanding Program as well as the Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television. The Writers Guild of America has honored the show's writers, Sara Lukinson and Stevens, Jr., for the last five years. THE 29TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS is sponsored in part by General Motors and TIAA-CREF.