- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

The Godfather of Soul himself, the ageless James Brown, headlines this year’s Kennedy Center Honors class of five. Mr. Brown is joined by director Mike Nichols of “The Graduate” fame, country legend Loretta Lynn, comic actress Carol Burnett and violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, the Kennedy Center announced yesterday.

Noticeably absent from the 2003 class is Sir Paul McCartney. The ex-Beatle was to have been an honoree last year, but he pulled out due to a scheduling conflict — a family wedding fell on the weekend of the honors ceremonies. Paul Simon replaced him, with the understanding that Mr. McCartney would be tapped the following year.

Mr. McCartney’s pullout last year marked the first time a performer had refused an honors selection since the awards’ 1978 debut, and the Kennedy Center may be having a hard time digesting the perceived slight. The center’s powers that be aren’t talking. A publicist said simply that Mr. McCartney would not be given the honor this year.

With or without Mr. McCartney, this year’s honorees represent some of America’s most beloved entertainers. Each also survived childhood hardship, suffering through disease, war or poverty, to become standouts in their respective mediums.

Call him Mr. Dynamite, Soul Brother No. 1 or “the hardest working man in show business” — Mr. Brown achieved his first hits as a ‘50s R&B; star on the storied King record label and went on to become a founding father of ‘60s soul, ‘70s funk and, more indirectly, rap. The leading black artist in American popular music since World War II, Mr. Brown shows no sign of slowing down months after his 70th birthday. When he does finally retire, his influence is sure to far outlast his active career. Rappers routinely sample his music, and rockers old and young mimic the splits, shimmies and skates that made up his electrifying repertoire of stage moves at his peak.

The singer grew up in an impoverished region of the South but rose to fame with such classic numbers as “Please, Please, Please,” “I Feel Good,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Night Train.”

Miss Lynn may be a “coal miner’s daughter,” but to millions of country fans the 68-year-old epitomizes the beauty and heart of the genre.

One of eight children and a grandmother of 29, Miss Lynn taught herself to play the guitar as a teenager and eventually found a second home in Nashville. Such hits as “Don’t Come Home a’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” and “Woman of the World” made her a force in the industry. Her down-home manner and heartfelt autobiography — which became a 1980 hit film starring Sissy Spacek — endeared her to fans beyond her base in the country genre.

Despite losing the use of his legs as the result of a childhood bout with polio, Mr. Perlman, 57, grew up to become a violin virtuoso. His broad musical range and populist style has brought both critical and public acclaim for decades. Along the way, he has joined forces with Yo-Yo Ma, Placido Domingo and composer John Williams, among others, to share his warm, rich notes with the public.

The director of such zeitgeist-defining films as “The Graduate,” “Carnal Knowledge” and “Silkwood,” Mr. Nichols began his career as a performer. He helped create Second City, the improvisational group that would later produce comic talents such as John Belushi and Mike Myers.

The 71-year-old director, who as a child fled the Nazi regime in Germany, later split from Second City to pair with Elaine May, forming one of the industry’s top comedic duos. Later, he staked his claim to Broadway greatness, directing such classics as “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple.”

Miss Burnett enjoyed an 11-year run on CBS with “The Carol Burnett Show,” a highly rated and critically acclaimed variety show famous for its ensemble sketch comedy, featuring such performers as Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, but the 70-year-old performer has built a repertoire of complex comic personas over the years, spread through television, film and the stage.

She transformed the off-Broadway show “Once Upon a Mattress” into a Broadway smash and later joined forces with Honors winner Julie Andrews for a series of acclaimed television shows.

The Kennedy Center Honors will be bestowed upon the five during a weekend of ceremonies beginning Dec. 6 at the State Department. The Honors Gala follows the next day and will be broadcast as a two-hour special on CBS later in December.

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