CAROLINE KENNEDY RETURNS AS HOST OF "THE 30TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS," TO BE BROADCAST DEC. 26 ON THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK
Leon Fleisher, Steve Martin, Diana Ross, Martin Scorsese and Brian Wilson Are This Year's Honorees at the Gala to Be Taped Dec. 2
CBS Has Broadcast the Kennedy Center Honors Each Year Since Its Debut 30 Years Ago
Caroline Kennedy returns as host of THE 30TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, a new entertainment special, to be broadcast Wednesday, Dec. 26 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. This marks the 30th anniversary of the special, which has been broadcast on CBS each year since its debut.
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 will receive honors for the year 2007. Kennedy will serve as host for the fifth consecutive year.
In a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, the 2007 Honorees will be saluted by great performers from Hollywood and the arts capitals of the world. Seated with President and Mrs. Bush, the Honorees will accept the thanks of their peers and fans through performances and heartfelt tributes.
The President and Mrs. Bush will receive the Honorees and members of the Artists Committee, who nominate them, along with the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees at the White House prior to the gala performance taping on Dec. 2. The 2007 Kennedy Center Honors Gala concludes with a dinner dance in the Grand Foyer. The Kennedy Center Honors will be bestowed the night before the gala at a State Department dinner, hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Honors recipients are recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts - whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television - and are selected by the Kennedy Center's Board of Trustees. Members of the Kennedy Center's national artists committee as well as past Honorees made recommendations. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement. The selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.
Leon Fleisher was born on July 23, 1928 in San Francisco. Fleisher was well on his way to conquering the music world at age16, when he was singled out as "one of the most gifted of the younger generation of keyboard artists" by Olin Downes in The New York Times, and soon hailed as "the pianistic find of the century" by the great conductor Pierre Monteux. He was cruelly sidelined at the height of his powers by a rare neurological disease that lost him the use of his right hand. Undeterred, while being told by his doctors that he would never play again, he became an inspirational teacher and an inspired conductor, all the while playing - and, in fact, revitalizing -the left-handed repertory. Fleisher was, as the Times dubbed him, "a pianist for whom never was never an option." He underwent brain surgery, grueling experimental treatments and years of trials that would have discouraged most people. Then, against all odds and baffling medical experts, he returned. "His comeback," wrote Holly Brubach in The New York Times in 2007, "has catapulted him up next to Lance Armstrong as a symbol of the indomitable human spirit and an inspiration to a broader public."
Fleisher had his piano debut at the age of 8, began studies with Artur Schnabel at 9 and made his San Francisco Symphony debut at 14. At age 16 he had his Carnegie Hall debut, playing with the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Monteux. He won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in Belgium in 1952, became one of the most sought-after soloists and recitalists in the world's finest concert halls and began a rich series of recordings with, among others, George Szell and The Cleveland Orchestra. His landmark version of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms concertos as well as his solo recordings of Schubert and his explorations of the American repertory would become cult classics.
Even before losing the use of his right hand, which forced a radical change in his musical life in 1965, Fleisher had already gravitated toward education and conducting, which he studied with Monteux. As co-founder and director of the Kennedy Center's Theater Chamber Players, Fleisher has been an energizing powerhouse behind that most delicate and personal of musical fields. As a conductor, his accomplishments have included tenures as associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony and music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center. He has also conducted with the Baltimore Opera. His associations with the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he has been on the faculty since 1959, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto have turned Fleisher's generosity of spirit into an exhilarating wave of influence over new generations of pianists. His students, so far, include piano greats such as Andr� Watts, Lorin Hollander, Yefin Bronfman and Louis Lortie. When limited to performing with the left hand alone, Fleisher championed that repertory and created definitive interpretations of Ravel and Britten. He also encouraged and inspired composers to create new works for the left hand, a mission that has resulted in what is, perhaps, the most original American work of that genre: William Bolcom's Concerto for Two Pianos Left Hand, composed for Fleisher and his friend Gary Graff, who also suffered neurological problems with his right hand. Curtis Curtis-Smith's Concerto for the Left Hand was composed for Fleisher as well as major works by Lukas Foss and Gunter Schuller.
Fleisher was named "Instrumentalist of the Year" in 1994 by Musical America. He has received honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Townson State University, the Boston Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music. Johns Hopkins University gave him its President's Medal. Filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn's short documentary "Two Hands" chronicled Fleisher's heroic journey and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007.
"In the end," wrote Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times, "his diverse legacy may well prove more pervasive and lasting than if he had simply continued his career as a pre-eminent two-handed pianist." Still, Fleisher needed to play again, and he has. Returning to Carnegie Hall at the age of 67 for his first two-handed concert there in nearly four decades, Fleisher made history once again. "The listener was immediately impressed by the pearly beauty of Fleisher's sounds - as gentle as it was firm, ruminative and intensely poetic yet without any smearing of the melodic line," wrote Tim Page in The Washington Post in 1996 after the Carnegie Hall concert. "Indeed, I would rather listen to Fleisher, even in his current, delicate shape, than to most other pianists now before the public." Of his journey, Fleisher has said, "I'm not sure I would change anything that happened to me."
Steve Martin was born on August 14, 1945 in Waco, Texas. If there is such a thing as a Renaissance comic, Steve Martin is it. He is without a doubt one of the most versatile and popular actors before the public; a performer who wears many hats well beyond his signature arrow-through-the-head gear. He is a hit playwright, a reluctant literary light, an urbane and witty social commentator, an astute art collector, a mean banjo player, a dancing King Tut, an Academy Award host and a clown. He has interpreted Samuel Beckett on stage, David Mamet on screen, adapted Rostand with panache, created an unforgettable movie jerk and television's most attractive "wild and crazy guy." He has written and starred in blockbusters from "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" to "L.A. Story" and "Shopgirl." Never taking himself too seriously, he continues to nurture his considerable gifts with tongue firmly in cheek.
He has never abandoned the zaniness of his roots, but he has come a long way since his days as a philosophy undergraduate. "If you study geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all," Martin recalled of his days at California State University at Long Beach. "But philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life."
Martin was born in Texas and raised in Southern California. His father, Glenn Vernon Martin, was a real estate salesman and an aspiring actor. His mother, Mary Lee Stewart, was a housewife. As a teenager, Martin worked after school at the Magic Shop in Disneyland, where he learned to make balloon animals, juggle and play the banjo. These skills later made their way into his comedy act. He developed a musical routine with his classmate, Kathy Westmoreland, which headlined at the Bird Cage in Knott's Berry Farm. In college at Long Beach, he seriously considered becoming a philosophy professor, but in 1967 he transferred to U.C.L.A. and became a theater major.
His path to show business was sweet: from an appearance in "The Dating Game" while still in college to a job writing for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," which earned Martin an Emmy Award for writing in 1969. At this time Martin also wrote material for John Denver and the hit shows "Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" and "Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour." His own act, despite initial mixed reception on the road, brought him to Johnny Carson's attention, after which he became a frequent comedy guest on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson." The 1970s also witnessed his "Saturday Night Live" debut and the release of a series of popular comedy albums that unleashed catch phrases such as "Excuse me!" and "I'm a wild and crazy guy." This last became the signature line for the Czechoslovakian playboy duo Martin created with his friend Dan Aykroyd. "King Tut," an improbable but wildly successful single from one of Martin's early albums, was the icing on the cake for a rash of hits that included Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording in both 1977 and 1978.
The movies beckoned. He wrote an Academy Award-nominated short film, "The Absent-Minded Waiter," in which he co-starred opposite Teri Garr and Buck Henry. He then wrote and starred in his first full-length feature film, "The Jerk," directed by Carl Reiner, after which Martin never looked back.
"Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," "The Man with Two Brains" and "All of Me," all directed by Reiner, followed in quick succession and turned the popular comedian into a bankable movie icon. "Three Amigos!" in which he starred opposite his "Saturday Night Live" buddies Martin Short and Chevy Chase, emerged as comic gold alongside the musical "Little Shop of Horrors," in which Martin played a wild and crazy dentist. "Roxanne," his Writers Guild of America Award-winning adaptation of Rostand's classic Cyrano de Bergerac, was a surprise hit that let the uninitiated in on the fact that Martin is more than just a great comedian. Challenges followed and were conquered with versatility and ease: David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner," Neil Simon's "The Out-of-Towners," Martin's own "Shopgirl," each an acting gem created by a comic who also happened to be growing in stature as a major writer. His play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," a witty cerebral romp, premiered at Chicago's prestigious Steppenwolf Theater and has gone to score a major national and international success. Martin's refined taste in art has been reflected in his own collection as well as in his work as a trustee for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and as benefactor of the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. While waiting for his next book, play or movie, fans can quench their thirst for Martin with his frequent pieces for The New Yorker. "I believe entertainment can aspire to art, and can become art," Martin has said, "but if you set out to make art you are an idiot."
Diana Ross was born on March 26, 1944 in Detroit. "I really, deeply believe that dreams do come true," the international entertainment icon has said. Though, she adds, "You can't just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream - you've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself." For decades, Ross has been out there making her dreams come true and making beautiful music in the process. In a stunning career that began in the poorest projects of Detroit and soared into the global musical stratosphere, this American treasure has been spreading romance and joy and embodying the best, and often the sweetest, in American song. She is blessed with one of those rare voices that is instantly recognizable within a note or two. Crossing with exhilarating ease between soul, disco, R & B, Broadway, jazz and pop - with The Supremes and on her own - Diana Ross has defined and redefined the Motown sound. She has continuously outdone herself and surprised the world by, among other feats, earning an Academy Award-nomination for her acting in "Lady Sings the Blues," reinventing herself in "The Wiz" and "Mahogany" and by her generous philanthropic and musical work with young people. A sampling of her hits emerges as a dazzling musical rainbow, which Motown's Barry Gordy once dubbed as the "Sound of Young America." First came the virtual avalanche of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr.: Baby Love, When the Lovelight Starts Shining through His Eyes, Come See about Me, Nothing but Heartaches, Back in My Arms Again, Stop! In the Name of Love, My World Is Empty Without You, I Hear a Symphony, The Happening, You Keep Me Hangin' On, You Can't Hurry Love, Love Is Here and Now You're Gone, Reflections and the valedictory Supremes hit Someday We'll be Together. Then came the sublime solo efforts that continued and expanded the Ross sound. They include Reach Out and Touch and Ain't No Mountain High Enough right through the daring, original reinterpretation of Billie Holiday's golden legacy, the collaborations with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Ritchie and Rod Stewart, the minor miracle of "The Wiz." She received the 2007 Black Entertainment Television Award and her current CD and DVD is "I Love You," about which says Ross: "Every song is a positive affirmation of love."
She has not one but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has won a Tony Award and a Golden Globe Award, she has been nominated for a dozen Grammy Awards and she was named "Entertainer of the Century" by Billboard magazine. The Guinness Book of World Records declared her the most successful female musical artist of the 20th century - with 70 hit singles. "Diana Ross long ago moved from mere success to the status of a classic," The Washington Post once stated. The paper also concluded that Ross and the Supremes, together with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, were America's strongest and most successful line of the defense against the powerful music of the British Invasion. More than holding her own, she showed the world all the gentleness, elegance and romance of American music, cutting across racial and cultural lines at a time of social strife.
Ross was born in Detroit's rough Brewster-Douglass Projects and was the second of six siblings. She was only 15 when she teamed up with her neighborhood friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown and formed a do-wop quartet called The Primettes. They were the sister group to new Detroit sensation The Primes, which later became The Temptations. Motown Records spotted The Primettes, changed the lineup, renamed them The Supremes in 1961 and made music history. Ten Supremes songs became Number One hits in the Billboard Hot 100 between 1964 and 1967. When Cindy Birdsong replaced Florence Ballard, the group officially changed to Diana Ross and The Supremes - and the Holland-Dozier-Holland hits continued, alongside refreshing new interpretations of everything from Rodgers and Hart to the latest buzz from Carnaby Street. In 1969, as Ross readied to launch a solo career, she also began a pattern of encouraging young talent by introducing the Jackson 5 to national audiences. Her final single with The Supremes was Someday We'll be Together in 1970.
Ross then surprised her fans by tackling the role of Billie Holiday in the biographical picture "Lady Sings the Blues." Her emotionally shattering musical and dramatic performance proved to be one great artist's fitting tribute to another. It was a brilliant chapter in the Holiday jazz tradition as well as a new facet of Ross' own career. An Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nod followed, and the soundtrack album went number one, selling 300,000 in the first eight days of release alone. Then came Sidney Lumet's "The Wiz," about which Gary Arnold wrote in The Washington Post: "Hallelujah! ... You come out of this movie feeling blissfully moved and glad to be alive."
That gladness has informed all of Ross' body of work. She's been honored around the world, and named France's Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. She's selling out concerts from the Kremlin Palace in Moscow to Madison Square Garden in New York, giving a Royal Command Performance in London before Her Majesty the Queen and helping children everywhere through her work on the board of directors of A Better Chance. She doesn't just sing the blues, she sings pure joy.
Martin Scorsese was born in Flushing, N.Y. on Nov. 17, 1942. He is a fearless artist who brings out the best and most inspired work in others and, in the process, continues to surpass himself. His films are difficult to pinpoint, impossible to ignore, by turns shocking and rousing, challenging and always entertaining. He defines and redefines film itself. "Martin Scorsese is the patron saint of cinema," wrote David Thomson in The New York Times. "He is a defender of the faith." That faith, in the power of film, in the endless possibilities of art and life, is at the heart of this man's body of work.
His filmography is impressive by any standards. From Jesus to Travis Bickle, from the Dalai Lama to Howard Hughes, the wildly different characters in a Scorsese movie each ring true. They also often bring out the most memorable and fearless performances by his actors. Robert DeNiro's range from "Taxi Driver" through "New York, New York" is breathtaking. Additionally, actors as diverse as Joe Pesci, Ellen Burstyn, Teri Garr, Sharon Stone, Liza Minnelli, Willam Dafoe, Griffin Dunne, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon have each created for Scorsese what must count as landmarks in each of their careers. Yet even the most faithful fan would be hard-pressed to articulate any one element in common to these performances or to these pictures. The raw gritty violence of "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" surely could not suggest the exquisite gentleness of "Kundun" or the mystical metaphysical doubts of "The Last Temptation of Christ." The coolness of "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and the naked emotional fragility of "The Age of Innocence" are worlds away from the black comic touch in "After Hours" or the light screwball madness of "The King of Comedy." His masterpiece "The Departed," for which Scorsese, at last, won an Academy Award for Best Director in 2007, perhaps emerges as among his most original works - only because we haven't seen his next picture. One thing is for certain, as every movie lover knows: It will be a surprise.
Martin Scorsese was born in Flushing, Queens and grew up in Little Italy. His parents, Luciano Charles Scorsese and Catherine Cappa Scorsese, were workers in New York's Garment District. Their son has featured both memorably, especially his mother, in cameos in his movies. Martin entered the seminary right out of high school but, within a year, his vocation took a different turn. He abandoned plans for the priesthood in order to attend New York University, where he received his B.A. in English in 1964 and his M.A. in film in 1966. Soon after, he joined the faculty of his alma mater. Scorsese absorbed and then revitalized much of what he learned from the movies all around him - everything from the French New Wave and the Italian neorealists and existentialists to the budding American independent movement spearheaded by John Casavettes. From the start, he seemed to insist on emotional clarity: as early as the underrated "Boxcar Bertha," certainly in "Taxi Driver," and then through the rest of his remarkable career.
His short 1967 feature "The Big Shave," an extended, almost cruel close-up of an alarmingly bloody bit of male grooming that ends with a throat-slashing, succeeded as a pointed commentary on the then raging Vietnam War. It also has stood the test of time as a serious, seriously funny dark comedy. His first feature-length movie, "Who's That Knocking at My Door?," revealed Harvey Keitel's talents as well as Scorsese's. It also introduced the frantic editing and the aggressive use of music that would become hallmarks of his style; though even these purely Scorsesean traits would, in time, lead down unexpected paths.
"Mean Streets," championed by the influential critic Pauline Kael, already showed Scorsese's assurance as a director and his ability to be innovative yet as mainstream as the best of Hollywood. It helped that he brought out gripping performances from Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro. In fact, his directorial self-effacement may count in part for what could be seen as the industry taking Scorsese for granted. Ellen Burstyn won the Academy Award for Best Actress in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," but her director didn't. It would be decades before Scorsese would win the Oscar, although he was honored over the years by the Directors Guild of America, BAFTA and the Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globes).
"Taxi Driver," which won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, followed "Mean Streets" - and the rest is history. The daring and misunderstood "New York, New York," the high-contrast black-and-white "Raging Bull," the colorful "Goodfellas" and the touching "The Age of Innocence" all added to the Scorsese legend, each reflecting the sense of wonder that is the soul of his films. Religion, a deeply personal concern for Scorsese, found some of its most profound expression on film in his contrasting "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Kundun." "Gangs of New York" brought the man to his roots as no other picture before it. "The Aviator" retold a familiar American legend in bold new colors. "The Departed" was notable even for this director.
"I love the way the camera moves," Scorsese told T.J. English, author of The Westies, the source for "The Departed." "I love the cut from one moving shot to the next, or the cut from a moving shot to a static shot. The inspiration always comes from the point of view of the lens."
Brian Wilson was born on June 20, 1942 in Hawthorne, Calif. He is rock and roll's gentlest revolutionary. The songs he wrote for The Beach Boys have been among the most joyfully influential and exhilarating vibrations in the history of music in our time. There is real humanity in his body of work. It's vulnerable and sincere, authentic and unmistakably American.
"What Brian came to mean," said the Velvet Underground's John Cale, "was an ideal of innocence and naivety that went beyond teenage life and sprang into fully developed songs - adult and childlike at the same time. There was something genuine in every lyric." The long-lingering effects of his music have been as varied as they have been surprising. "Brian Wilson is one of the greatest innovators of my decade or any decade," said Burt Bacharach. The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan praised Wilson's "idealized pop utopia that widens the senses and soothes the ears." Leonard Bernstein once singled him out as "one of today's most important musicians, a symbol of the change many of these young musicians see in our future."
That future arrived in all its sunny California splendor with The Beach Boys, the group Wilson co-founded and for which he created the bulk of his music. It arrived with Pet Sounds, an unexpectedly ambitious album that, at its heart, revealed a heartfelt coming-of-age elegy for lost innocence as well as a stubborn refusal to be jaded. Nothing like this had ever been heard before in American pop. Long after Brian Wilson and his brothers started jamming out the definitive sounds of surfing, fellow American composer Philip Glass looked back at Wilson's historic significance: "Pet Sounds became an instant classic when it first appeared," said Glass. "Listening to it today, it is, perhaps, easier to see why it was one of the defining moments of its time, along with the music of The Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead: its willingness to abandon formula in favor of structural innovation, the introduction of classical elements in the arrangements, production concepts in terms of overall sound which were novel at the time - all these elements give Pet Sounds a freshness that, 30 years later, is immediately there for the listener."
Wilson's pocket symphony Good Vibrations frequently has been hailed as the greatest single of all time. Smile, which began as Wilson's self-proclaimed "Teenage symphony to God," emerged as a mature and complex artistic statement of existential uncertainty in today's world. The ineffably moving God Only Knows, recently revived as the theme for television's hit "Big Love," fused love and spirituality with unembarrassed ease. California Girls remains decade after decade the happiest of West Coast teen anthems. Fun Fun Fun, In My Room, Surfer Girl, I Get Around, Wouldn't It Be Nice? and many more all written by Wilson are simply timeless.
Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys were the happiest bulwark against the cultural onslaught that was the British Invasion. They not only held their own on the charts but also made sure that the influence went both ways. The Beatles' Rubber Soul may have provided the impetus for Pet Sounds, but Paul McCartney himself has acknowledged that it was Pet Sounds that "was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper." At the ceremony inducting Wilson into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame, McCartney called Wilson "one of the great American geniuses" and paid succinct tribute to his friend by saying "Thank you, sir, for making me cry."
On Labor Day weekend in 1962, with their parents away on vacation, Brian and his younger brothers Dennis and Carl used the $250 that their parents had left them for food to rent music equipment. They tried recording an original tune with their cousin, Mike Love, and their friend, Al Jardine. They got busy with Surfin', making history by singing the musical praises of America's newest teen craze from California. The sound was unique: equal parts of Chuck Berry's assertive bounce and The Four Freshmen's seductive and intricate harmonies woven into a colorful tapestry of youthful sounds the likes of which the world had never heard. It is one of music's most fascinating ironies that Brian, unlike his bona fide surfer-dude brother Dennis, was, in fact, not a surfer.
A local independent hit soon led to a Capitol recording contract and a frenzy of releases as The Beach Boys became America's band. Even when The Beatles released their landmark pensive Rubber Soul, signaling a new seriousness in pop music, Wilson and The Beach Boys came up with Pet Sounds in 1966 and ushered in a new era of their own. This was the living soundtrack of the transition from the Kennedy era through the Vietnam War, right through the trials and triumphs of an entire generation.
Album after unique album, from group miracles to the later splendid solo efforts, from Surfin' Safari, Little Deuce Coupe and Pet Sounds right through Surf's Up, Smile, What I Really Want for Christmas and 2007's That Lucky Old Sun, Brian Wilson has stayed true to his calling. Now, as surely as in his 1962 Surfin' Safari, he remains a charismatic troubadour singing out the meaning of being young in America. "We wanted to bring some love to the world," remembered Wilson. "I thought we were good at doing that."
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 30TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS is sponsored in part by General Motors.
RATING: To Be Announced