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Kennedy Center calls on Joni Mitchell and Berry Gordy for awards

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The latest Kennedy Center Honors aired on television less than two months ago, but on Wednesday the institution announced a new batch of winners, making a step towards returning the program on schedule after the pandemic upheaval. .

Recipients include folk singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell; stage and screen performer Bette Midler; Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown; Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live; and opera singer Justino Diaz.

Due to the pandemic, the 2020 honors have been delayed until this year and the celebration did not look at all like the event in previous years, when artists, politicians and other personalities gathered in the opera. Instead, the ceremony took place over several days, and the TV producers assembled a combination of home taped tributes and in-person performances that aired in June.

This time around, the ceremony, scheduled for December 5, promises to be more like the Kennedy Center Honors of yesteryear, with the venue at full capacity and, if all goes well, President Biden in attendance. (President Trump was absent for all three ceremonies held during his tenure.)

This will be the party to end all the parties because we haven’t had one in so long, said Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The ceremony will air on CBS, but a date has not been set.

The laureates, selected on the recommendation of an advisory committee that includes Kennedy Center officials and past laureates, include two singer-songwriters, Mitchell and Midler, whose careers began to soar in the early 1970s. , when they were in their twenties.

Fifty years ago, Mitchell, 77, released Blue, his fourth album, which had a lasting influence on singer-songwriters for decades to come. Mitchell, who helped shape an era of protest music with songs like Big Yellow Taxi and Woodstock, said of this honor, I wish my mom and dad were alive to see this.

Midlers’ 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 over a dozen studio albums and her role as Dolly Levi in ​​the Broadway cover of Hello, Dolly! earned her a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in 2017.

To Gordy, the 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 the record label, then discovered and helped ignite the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye. and more.

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

Here we are 60 years later and Diana Ross and the Temptations are both releasing new albums, he said. Motown’s legacy continues without my having to do anything.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Kennedy Centers in 1971, more than a decade after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation creating a national cultural center. Shortly after the ’s inauguration, Diaz, then a 31-year-old opera singer, played the male lead role in Ginasteras Beatrix Cenci. He played a naughty Earl and remembered handling two huge Mastiffs on stage when he first entered.

Now, at 81, Diaz, a bass baritone who has performed for opera companies around the world, will return to opera to see artists pay homage to his career.

Little old me? he said in an interview. He noted that despite his fame in the opera world, he is not a household name.

I say that I am an opera singer, he said, and I must immediately follow up with, no, I am not Plcido Domingo and I am not Luciano Pavarotti.

Rutter said that while the latest ceremony was limited by social distancing requirements, there are aspects she wants to maintain. In particular, she said, there was a sense of intimacy in this celebration that hadn’t been there before. At one point, she noted, as the performers mingled outside on a patio, Rhiannon Giddens picked up his banjo, started playing, and Joan Baez started dancing.

It was spontaneous, Rutter said. The artists opened their instruments and people began to sing and dance together.

(It’s not clear whether attendees this year will be required to wear masks, as they will be required to do for the Kennedy Centers fall programming.)

Michaels, 76, who created SNL in 1975, was also forced by the pandemic to radically rethink his show. In the spring of 2020, SNL filmed sketches in their cast houses, allowing audiences to connect with cast members in new ways. Now that they’ve returned to a live audience, they’re thinking about ways to apply what they’ve learned in quarantine.

These shows had a strong handcrafted quality, which was part of their charm, he said. Once we got back to the audience, we continued to push the boundaries of what we could do.

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