Honors growing bigger, more special
George Stevens Jr. knew he created something special in 1978 when he saw the audience at the Kennedy Center react to old black-and-white footage of Marian Anderson singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“We had not anticipated it, but they all turned and stood with this huge long ovation for her,” he said.
The singer had been turned away in 1939 from performing at Constitution Hall because she was black. But in 1978, she was being honored by her country at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Foggy Bottom.
This year, singer Diana Ross received the Kennedy Center Honors, along with pianist Leon Fleisher, actor and writer Steve Martin, film director Martin Scorsese and songwriter Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame.
Mr. Stevens, 75, continues producing the show he created three decades ago. Over the years, the Kennedy Center Honors — airing tonight on CBS — have evolved and grown in stature. Beyond the president and all the D.C. power players, the show, which was filmed on Dec. 2, seems to attract more A-listers every year.
Ciara will be seen singing and dancing on stage to Miss Ross‘ hit single “Upside Down,” right after tributes from Smokey Robinson, actor Terrence Howard, Jordin Sparks from “American Idol” fame and Vanessa Williams. Yolanda Adams will sing “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” with a 125-member choir.
The honors have become the consummate D.C. event. Tickets now cost $4,000 for orchestra seats, much more than the $150 the first year, in 1978. After 30 years, the show still draws more than 8 million TV viewers.
“Steve Martin is a national treasure,” he eventually says.
The awards were bestowed at a black-tie dinner at the State Department.
“It’s probably my favorite event of the year,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a pianist herself who greeted all 250 guests. “I really think the arts have a marvelous role in being a unifying force across the world.”
The event brings together some of Hollywood’s elite along with big shots from the worlds of business, classical arts and official Washington.