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The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts today announced the recipients of the 44th Lifetime Achievement Award. They are: Motown founder Berry Gordy, opera star Justino Díaz, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, artist Bette Midler and television impresario Lorne Michaels, who created Saturday Night Live.
Modeled after European accolades such as the Order of Arts and Letters of France or the Order of the British Empire of the United Kingdom, the Kennedy Center Honors celebrate the artists who changed American culture – “not someone who has a pop record right now, “in the words of Bernie Sofronski, a CBS producer who helped create the awards in 1978.
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
This year’s winners certainly qualify. Justino Díaz performed at the inauguration of the Kennedy Center 50 years ago, appearing as the lead male role in Alberto Ginastera’s opera Beatrix Cenci. “With his distinguished and deeply resonant voice and his opera career rich in history, Justino Díaz has stood on the stages of the greatest opera houses in the world and is today one of the greatest bass baritones of our time. Kennedy Center President David M. Rubenstein said. A declaration.
“Visionary music producer and songwriter Berry Gordy has brought the epitome of Detroit soul to every home in America,” continued Rubenstein, “elevating the Motown sound to become a national treasure.”
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Gordy described himself as “thrilled” to join the legacy of Kennedy Center laureates. “Growing up in Detroit, I was not only black, but the ‘black sheep’ of my family,” he wrote in a statement. “I failed in everything I did until I was 29 … The arts not only give voice to the voiceless, but connect us, transform us and soothe our souls. Kennedy Center Honors embodies the recognition and value of both the Arts and the Artist. “
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Two of the winners of this prestigious American art award were born in Canada. After moving from Toronto to Los Angeles in 1968, Lorne Michaels built a show that launched countless careers and catchphrases. Saturday Night Live, in the words of David Rubenstein, “is both the mirror and the muse of life in America.”
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Joni Mitchell, originally from Alberta and described by the Kennedy Center as “one of the most influential singer-songwriters and cultural figures in popular music of the 20th century,” responded to the announcement, including: “It’s far from Saskatoon.”
It was also a long road for Bette Midler, a Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning artist who began performing in gay bathhouses in the 1970s. “I am deeply touched. by this honor, in fact, i am stunned and grateful beyond words, ”she wrote in a statement. “For many years, I watched this show celebrating the best performing arts talent America has to offer, and I really never imagined I would end up among these swans.”
The Kennedy Center Honors are typically advertised in the summer, shown in December, and then shown later on TV. This year’s awards are expected to be presented at a live gala on December 5, which will be taped for broadcast at a later date.