Kennedy Center Selects Joni Mitchell and Berry Gordy for Awards


Last Kennedy Center Honors televised less than two months ago, but on Wednesday, the institution announced a new batch of honors, taking a step back to get the program back on schedule after the pandemic raged.

Among the recipients are folk singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell; stage and screen artist Bette Midler; Berry Gordy, founder of Motown; Lorne Michaels, creator of “Saturday Night Live”; and opera singer Justino Díaz.

Due to the pandemic, 2020 honor postponed until this year and the celebration was unlike any event in previous years when artists, politicians and other prominent figures flocked to the opera house. Instead, the ceremony was split over several days, and the television producers put together a combination of home-recorded tributes and personal performances that aired in June.

This time, the ceremony, scheduled for December 5, promises to look more like the former Kennedy Center Honors, with the capacity of the house and, if all goes well, the participation of President Biden. (President Trump did not attend the three ceremonies held during his tenure.)

“It’s going to be the party that will end all parties because we haven’t had a party like this for a long time,” said Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The ceremony will air on CBS, but no date has been set.

Selected on the recommendation of an advisory committee that includes Kennedy Center officials and past laureates, honorees include Mitchell and Midler, two singer-songwriters whose careers began to rise in their 20s in the early 1970s.

Fifty years ago, 77-year-old Mitchell released his fourth album, “Blue.” have a lasting influence on singer-songwriters over the next decades. “I wish mom and dad could see this,” said Mitchell, who helped shape an era of protest music with songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock.”

Midler’s debut album, “The Divine Miss M,” was released a year after “Blue” and helped propel her into a career that spanned Broadway, television and film. Midler, 75, has released more than a dozen studio albums and starred as Dolly Levi in ​​the Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!”. won it Tony Award Best actress in a musical in 2017.

At Gordy, founder of Motown Records, the Kennedy Center honors the figure behind an entire generation of musical talent. Gordy, now 91, once borrowed $800 from his family to start his record label, and then helped spark the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes, discovering and discovering Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and more.

Gordy said in an interview after announcing his retirement two years ago that he spends most of his time playing golf, tennis and chess.

“We’re here 60 years later and Diana Ross and the Temptations are both coming out with new albums,” he said. “Motown’s legacy continues without me having to do anything.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Center’s opening in 1971, more than a decade after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the law establishing the National Cultural Center. Shortly after the center’s grand opening, Díaz, then a 31-year-old opera singer, performed there as the male lead in Ginastera’s “Beatrix Cenci.” He played a bad number and remembered handling two big Mastiffs on stage. during the first entry.

Now 81, a bass-baritone performing for opera companies around the world, Díaz will return to the opera house to pay homage to the artists’ careers.

“Little old me?” he said in an interview. He noted that despite his reputation in the opera world, he is not a name everyone knows.

“I say I am an opera singer,” he said, “and I have to go right away saying, ‘No, I’m not Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.’”

Rutter said that while the final ceremony was limited to social distancing requirements, there were aspects he wanted to maintain. Specifically, she said, there was a sense of intimacy at that celebration that wasn’t there before. At one point, while the performers were mingling outside on a terrace, Rhiannon Giddens picked up her banjo, started playing, and Joan Baez started dancing.

“It happened spontaneously,” Rutter said. “The artists broke their instruments and people started singing and dancing together.”

(It’s unclear whether this year’s attendees will be required to wear masks for the Kennedy Center’s fall program.)

Michaels, 76, who created “SNL” in 1975, has also been forced by the pandemic to drastically rethink his show. In the spring of 2020, “SNL” performed skits at the actors’ homes, allowing viewers to connect with the actors in a new way. Now that they’re back to a live audience, they’re thinking of ways to apply what they’ve learned in quarantine.

“There was a strong homemade quality that was part of the appeal of these shows,” he said. “When we got back to the audience, we kept pushing the boundaries of what we could do.”


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