[12/05/05 - 12:00 AM]
A Glittering Array of Prominent Artists Gather to Present This Year's Honorees with Festive and Poignant Tributes at "The 28th Annual Kennedy Center Honors," to Be Broadcast Tuesday, DeC. 27 on the CBS Television Network

[via press release from CBS]


Tony Bennett, Suzanne Farrell, Julie Harris, Robert Redford and Tina Turner Are This Year's Honorees

Caroline Kennedy Hosts for Third Consecutive Year

Performers and Presenters Include Alec Baldwin, Christine Baranski, Beyonc�, Tom Brokaw, Glenn Close, Tyne Daly, Jacques D'Amboise, Melissa Etheridge, Al Green, Quincy Jones, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Michele Lee, John Legend, Wynton Marsalis, Helen Mirren, Arthur Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Paul Newman, Mary-Louise Parker, Queen Latifah, Kevin Spacey, Maria Tallchief, Leslie Uggams, Vanessa Williams, Oprah Winfrey and Karen Ziemba

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

Distinguished artist friends and peers of this year's five honorees gathered in abundance last night (Dec. 4) to salute them with entertaining and moving tributes at THE 28TH 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 third consecutive year. George Stevens Jr. is head writer and producer for the 28th consecutive year. Singer Tony Bennett, dancer and teacher Suzanne Farrell, actress Julie Harris, actor, director and producer Robert Redford and singer Tina Turner were in attendance at the festive 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. In keeping with tradition, the roster 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 Alec Baldwin, Christine Baranski, Beyonc�, Tom Brokaw, Glenn Close, Tyne Daly, Jacques D'Amboise, Melissa Etheridge, Al Green, Quincy Jones, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Michele Lee, John Legend, Wynton Marsalis, Helen Mirren, Arthur Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Paul Newman, Mary-Louise Parker, Queen Latifah, Kevin Spacey, Maria Tallchief, Leslie Uggams, Vanessa Williams, Oprah Winfrey and Karen Ziemba.

Additional performers include The Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company, Howard University Jazz Ensemble, Joyce Garrett Choir and the Rob Mathes Band.

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 balcony seats, having just come from the customary White House reception for the honorees.

Host Caroline Kennedy begins the festivities stating, "Tonight we celebrate the extraordinary artists who have enriched the life of our nation through their achievements in the performing arts." Quoting George Bernard Shaw, she says, "'You use a glass mirror to see your face, you use works of art to see your soul.'" Adds Kennedy, "The artists we honor this evening have indeed touched our souls,'" after which she describes them as: "A singing waiter from Queens whose velvet voice convinced the world that great songs live forever; a long-limbed tomboy from Cincinnati whose dedication, grace and daring made her America's prima ballerina; a shy girl who played 'make believe' in Grosse Point, Michigan and went on to make us all believe every character she played; a golden boy from the Golden State who proved that, when it came to making motion pictures, he was, indeed, a natural; and a daughter of Nutbush, Tennessee who strutted her way to the top of the charts, showing us exactly what love's got to do with it."

Quincy Jones, a 2001 Honoree and long-time friend and colleague of Tony Bennett, kicks off the tribute to Bennett, who looks delighted to see Jones. Jones relays that in the 1950s, when he was writing arrangements for rhythm and blues and jazz dates, he learned: "If you have to ask 'Who's that?' when you hear a record, then it really doesn't matter. If in the first 20 seconds you can't tell whose voice it is, you're never going to hear about them again anyway, so just forget about it and stop listening." Jones continues that with Tony Bennett, "You only need two seconds to know that it's him." Jones continues, "Tony's family name is Benedetto� which means 'blessed one' and it could not be more appropriate for a man who always had this beautiful, sweet light and sound glowing over him. His essence is to give, whether it's his music, his painting, or just himself�" He adds later that one of his fondest memories of Bennett, which still gives him goose bumps, is when Bennett sang "Lost in the Stars" a cappella to Nelson Mandela at a tribute for Mandela. In closing, Jones shares how Frank Sinatra not only called Tony "the best singer in the business" but that, as Sinatra's arranger and conductor, whenever he went to Sinatra with a new song to record, Sinatra would repeatedly say to Jones, " 'If Tony's already done it, then I know it is good enough for me to record.'"

Bennett's musical homage begins with Bennett's friend, celebrated jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, performing the soulful "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" � with bass, piano and drums accompaniment. Vanessa Williams, who has recorded with Bennett, follows by singing "The Best Is Yet to Come," backed by the Howard University Jazz Ensemble. Jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall, who has also recorded with Bennett, plays the piano while singing "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)." Next up is R&B singer John Legend who performs "For Once in My Life. " He is followed by k.d. lang, who croons the soulful "What a Wonderful World" from the Grammy Award-winning album of the same name she recorded with Bennett.

Jacques D'Amboise, a 1995 Kennedy Center Honoree who was Suzanne Farrell's partner in the New York City Ballet, addresses Farrell as "Suzie" and enthusiastically recounts how it wasn't always easy to dance with the supremely gifted Farrell. Calling her a "demon of a dancer" with "legs flying all over the stage," D'Amboise light-heartedly reveals that, though he was trying to keep up, and was supposed to catch her, he "missed a few." Farrell smiles.

Maria Tallchief, a 1993 Kennedy Center Honoree, and Arthur Mitchell, a 1996 Kennedy Center Honoree, enter and Tallchief recalls that while she was dancing at the Chicago City Ballet, Farrell went there to dance "Cinderella." Tallchief recalls going to see her and how moving it was to watch Farrell dance. Farrell is, likewise, moved to tears as Tallchief is speaking. Mitchell, who was Farrell's first partner at the New York City Ballet, adds that, though Farrell was already an amazing dancer, she lacked experience doing difficult choreography and once accidentally hit him in the face with full force. A laughing Mitchell recalls sending Farrell flowers on opening night and writing a note that said, "'Dear Suzanne, Good luck. Dance your heart out� and you can punch me anytime.'" Mitchell next says that Farrell "embodied the miracle of Balanchine's grace, wit, speed, and his intense musicality," and, thus, Farrell's tribute includes her own company of talented dancers, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company, performing George Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15.

Tom Brokaw, close friend and Sundance neighbor of Robert Redford, begins his verbal tribute to Redford by teasing Redford, saying, "Tony Bennett gets Vanessa (Williams) and Diana (Krall) and you get me." He then states, "Every society, real and imagined, has a special place for the golden boy, the devil may care charmer with an athlete's grace and the kind of charisma that makes strong men want to follow him � and women weak at the sight of him. For 40 years, Robert Redford has been captain of America's golden boys. On stage, on the big screen, behind the camera and out front on the issues about which he is passionate, he has been a leading man in every sense of the phrase." Brokaw adds later, "He brought Bob Woodward from the front pages to the big screen. And if one Bob shared any secret sources with the other Bob, they ended up on the cutting room floor � or maybe, these days, before a grand jury." He continues, "Some of his roles seemed a bit of a stretch. Does anyone believe it would take a million dollars for Demi Moore to run off with Robert Redford?" (This elicits a big laugh from the audience.) He also pokes fun at Redford for not being as perfect as he seems. Brokaw cites that, per Redford's friends and family members, "He seems not to have learned how to tell time as a child�. His idea of on time is anything within 12 hours." Brokaw also touches upon Redford's directing talents, his personal commitment to alternative energy and environmental causes, and his loving and playful relationships with his children and grandchildren.

Paul Newman, a 1992 Kennedy Center Honoree, himself gets a standing ovation from the crowd upon entering the stage, and Redford is clearly elated to see him. Newman starts with the deadpan line, "On my 70th birthday, I set fire to my tuxedo." (This gets a big laugh, as, instead of wearing the customary formal attire, he's wearing a blue shirt and jacket with a regular tie.) Pointing to his tie, which happens to be black, he says, "Black tie," which gets more laughs. Newman follows by playfully saying, "Is Redford here?!" Like Brokaw, he proceeds to regale the audience with tales of Redford's tardiness � and jokes that the only reason Redford made it is because he was told the event was yesterday. Newman then recounts how back in the 1980s, when they were both residents in Westport, Conn., Redford gave him a Porsche for his birthday. However, it was a practical joke, as the car was stripped of many working parts and had to be towed to his home. Newman says he retaliated by getting the keys to Redford's house and the code to his burglar alarm and, when Redford wasn't home, brought the 800 pounds of pieces of the car into his house. "I win, right?" says the chuckling Newman. Newman also takes a moment to be serious, saying some heartfelt words about Redford's acting, directing, the Sundance Institute and its film festival, and his political and environmental causes.

Glenn Close next recounts how she first met Robert Redford prior to the start of production on the film "The Natural," for which she had been offered the role of his childhood love who had given birth to a son he didn't know he had. "What could be more fabulous?! I would even get to kiss him in the barn!" She recalls that she'd had a scheduling conflict and was beside herself at having to turn down the part. When she was told that Redford still wanted to meet her, she reluctantly agreed to go. Close shares that she'd thought, "'Great, now I'm going to have to say 'no' to Robert Redford in person.' How could I turn down the chance to work with that brilliant, athletic, sexy-does-his-own-stunts, witty, artistic, creative, out-of-the-box thinking, committed, politically activated, gorgeous, GORGEOUS man?!" She continues, "The first time I saw The Sundance Kid in the flesh, he was sitting behind a desk in an office in Manhattan. A very beautiful, strong, muscular desk (the crowd laughs) in an office full of wonderful art and manly furniture, covered in meticulously coordinated colored and textured fabrics. When I walked in he looked up and smiled that smile, leapt up from his chair, came around the manly desk, took my hand in his, looked into my eyes with that eagle look and said, 'I really want you in this movie.' (She pauses, looking entranced, and the audience laughs again.) I swallowed, took a deep breath and said, [like a smitten schoolgirl] 'okay.'" Offering that that was the beginning of their long friendship, Close states that Redford is "magnificently complex and unexpected, a dreamer and a CEO, a visionary activist with a heart and soul of an artist. He is a passionate man who has stayed true to the passions of his life: his family, art, film, the environment, Native America and the Sundance Institute."

Next, Willie Nelson, a 1998 Kennedy Center Honoree who began a lasting friendship with Redford as his co-star in the "Electric Horseman" in 1979, sings, while playing his guitar to perform "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys." When Brokaw, Newman and Close join Nelson on stage to applaud Redford, Nelson starts singing, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" � with Brokaw, Newman and Close and the audience singing along. As the presenters, performers and audience members applaud Redford, he waves with a cheerful smile and also acknowledges them with an iconic nose tap from the film "The Sting."

Julie Harris looks thrilled when her friend Kevin Spacey walks onto the stage to open her tribute. He begins by referencing a moment in 1943 when the young Julie Harris was taking a drama class and her teacher asked each girl why she wanted to act. While the other students casually relayed liking it better than ballet or being forced to take it for poise, according to Spacey, the shy Harris said simply, "It's my life." Continues Spacey, "It wasn't long after that day in 1943 that Julie Harris stepped onto a Broadway stage and began to fulfill the purpose of her life� Maybe that's why we remember her best in roles that burned with an inner certainty: Joan of Arc, Emily Dickinson and many, many others. She once said that she always had the curious feeling of being more alive when she was playing someone else than when she was being herself." Reminiscing about having seen Harris transform herself both on stage and on film, Spacey states, "I speak for the entire community of theater when I say we have admired her choices, her determination, her gift and her dedication to her craft. She has illuminated characters, brought them to life, shown us ourselves. She has honored her profession and, unlike most stars of her stature, completely dedicated and given herself to the American theater."

Helen Mirren, Alec Baldwin and Mary-Louise Parker continue Harris' verbal salute. Says Baldwin, "Julie Harris played my mother, Lilimae Clements, on the TV series 'Knots Landing' and each day on the set she'd give us all a master class in the art of fine acting. I thank you for that, Julie." Parker adds, "I remember going to see her in 'The Fiery Furnace' and I sat waiting for the theatrical legend to make her entrance. But when she came on what we saw, quite simply, was the heart and soul of the character she was playing." Continues Parker, "Julie Harris wrote of the actress' constant need to overcome fear. One of her favorite scenes is from 'The Lark' when Joan of Arc has to face her fears." Parker recites that scene: "'What do you do when you get scared,' the Dauphin asks Joan. 'Act as if I wasn't,' she replies. 'It's that simple. Try it. Say to yourself, Yes, I am afraid. But it's nobody's business, so you go on, you go on.'" Parker next quotes Harris' response to that scene: "'And that's what you do. You go on.'" Baldwin adds, "This small, soft-spoken lady has done several one woman shows, alone on the stage for two hours at a stretch, eight shows a week, week after week. She says, 'It's like climbing the rock face of a mountain. It requires determination and stamina. If you don't have a strong presence, you have to learn it � learn how to reach from the first row all the way to the last. You have to learn to say, 'Here I am.'" Per Mirren, Harris' friend and director, Charles Nelson Reilly, recalled having escorted Harris to a State dinner at the White House in honor of the Queen of England. Mirren relays that the queen came out under the television lights, wearing the dazzling crown jewels "sparking like a Christmas tree." She continues, "Everyone went, (admiringly) 'Aah! Aah!' And Julie went (in a joking whisper) 'Aah! I could play it better.'" In closing Baldwin says, "Julie, we thank you for giving actors a standard by which to measure ourselves, and we recall your memorable words." Parker then reveals Harris' words, saying, "'I am sure if the world were ending tomorrow, I would run out and go to the theater.'"

Mirren next introduces the musical tribute to Harris, stating that the song "Broadway Baby," written by 1993 Kennedy Center Honoree Stephen Sondheim, "speaks to every aspiring actress." Anything but aspiring actresses themselves, the women performing the next number, have each earned critical acclaim in Broadway productions, which is something they share in common with Spacey, Mirren, Baldwin and Parker. Christine Baranski begins the song and is joined, one after another, by Karen Ziemba; Harris' "Knots Landing" co-star, Michele Lee; Leslie Uggams and Tyne Daly, who all perform it comically as if they're competing for the same part. Harris is deeply moved.

Oprah Winfrey shares that she's not only a huge fan of Tina Turner but she, at one point, could have won for being the "Biggest Known Groupie of Tina." She states how thrilling it was to first see Turner perform in-person several years ago, while Turner was rehearsing in Winfrey's studio for a performance on Winfrey's show. She said she immediately wanted Turner's qualities, such as being exuberant, passionate � and cool. She was elated when her show trailed and covered Turner's national tour. Additionally, per Winfrey, "I had a wig made so that I could shake my hair like Tina." She reveals that her boyfriend, Stedman Graham, finally had to say, "You've taken this too far� You are not Tina Turner and you look ridiculous in that wig!" Winfrey says she's happy to be a friend instead of a groupie now, but offers, "If you've never seen Tina on stage, you need to add that to the list of things you do before you die." Winfrey also touches upon Turner's resolve in the face of adversity, and says that it has inspired so many women. In closing she says, "We don't need another hero. We need more heroines like Tina Turner." Addressing Turner, she says, "You make me so proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N."

The rousing musical homage for Turner is performed by a mix of renowned Grammy Award-winning artists, accompanied by the Rob Mathes band. First up is Queen Latifah, who sings "What's Love Got to Do with It?" with members of the audience, including the First Lady and Robert Redford, singing along from their seats. Next Melissa Etheridge rocks the house by belting out "Nutbush City Limits" followed by the equally powerful rendition of "River Deep Mountain High." After Etheridge's performance, Turner waves and cheers for her. Beyonc�, looking leggy in a sexy red dress, begins by saying she's had two inspirational Tinas in her life � her mother and Turner. She says she'll never forgot the first time she saw Turner perform and then reveals that she's going to start singing Creedence Clearwater's "Proud Mary" "easy" but will end it "rough" like Turner does. Beyonc� does just that, bringing the crowd to their feet and singing and dancing the majority of the song at an electric, mesmerizing pace � with three backup singers who energetically dance in synch with her. Before leaving the stage, she says, "I love you" to Turner, who couldn't look more pleased following that number. Next Al Green, backed by the Joyce Garrett Choir, finishes the salute by singing his song "Let's Stay Together," which was successfully re-recorded by Turner years ago, and to which the audience joyfully claps along.

In closing, host Caroline Kennedy offers, "President Kennedy once said: 'I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.'" Kennedy adds, "Tonight's celebration of the arts must come to an end, but our Honorees' contributions to the human spirit will be remembered throughout time."

THE 28TH 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 28th 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 four years. THE 28TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS is sponsored in part by General Motors and TIAA-CREF.

  [december 2005]  

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