- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

This year’s Kennedy Center Honors class has legs, all right.

But enough about soul music goddess Tina Turner. The class of 2005 represents a glittering array of stars, from Miss Turner to silver screen icon and indie filmmaker hero Robert Redford and ageless crooner Tony Bennett.

Stage and screen virtuoso Julie Harris and former New York City Ballet prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell round out the impressive honorees on the KenCen’s 28th annual list.

The quintet will receive their awards Dec. 4 during a gala ceremony that’s also slated for broadcast later that month on CBS.

“We honor five extraordinary American artists whose unique and abundant contributions to our culture have transformed our lives,” Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman said in a statement.

Miss Turner’s life story — filled with personal drama and her triumph in overcoming obstacles — proved rich enough to warrant the critically hailed biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With” (1993). Her Kennedy Center Honor follows a long career filled with hit records, a best-selling autobiography and numerous Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year for 1984’s “Private Dancer”). Born Anna Mae Bullock, the Nutbush, Tenn. native forged her name with a rip-roaring persona that blended raw sensuality with style and range. Never tasteless and always arresting, her work combined the best of rock, funk and soul in a wide range of smash hits, from “Proud Mary” to “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”

Mr. Redford’s status as a movie idol stood secure long before he revolutionized the independent film industry with the Sundance Film Festival. The handsome actor cemented his screen status with classic films like “The Sting” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” but also chose challenging projects — from “All the President’s Men” to “The Candidate”— which mirrored his social activism.

He later won the Best Director Oscar for 1980’s “Ordinary People,” but young directors across the country may remember him best for his film festival, an annual gathering where undiscovered talents finally get a chance to be seen and heard. Included among the famous films which got their start at Sundance are “sex, lies and videotape,” “American Splendor,” “Hoop Dreams” and “Pulp Fiction.”

Mr. Bennett, born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, is beloved by Gen-Xers and seniors alike. He began singing professionally at 10 and shows no sign of stopping, playing to delighted audiences the world over. He’ll always be remembered for such hits as “The Best is Yet to Come” and his signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but younger audiences became enamored of with his silky style with “MTV Unplugged,” which won the 1994 Grammy for Album of the Year. At 79, he continues to perform — and concertgoers worldwide can testify about how much he revels in the simple act of singing for a crowd.

Miss Harris’ collection of Tony Awards eclipses any other performer, yet her story doesn’t begin and end on the stage. The actress reprised her stage role of Frankie Addams for the film version of “The Member of the Wedding.” Her other notable big screen performances include “East of Eden” (with James Dean), “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “The Bell Jar.” She’s also conquered the small screen, playing Lillimae Clements for seven seasons on CBS’ “Knot’s Landing.” Still, her admirers will likely know her stage work best, where Miss Harris could wow ‘em in a one-woman show one season, then delight them in a frothy comedy the next.

Born Roberta Sue Ficker, Miss Farrell’s dancing career began at 16 when the legendary George Balanchine chose her for his New York City Ballet. Dazzling in Mr. B’s “Serenade,” “Movements for Piano and Orchestra” and “Meditation” she coaxed the legendary choreographer into creating a piece specifically for her, his full-length “Don Quixote.”

She later danced for Maurice Bejart and Jerome Robbins. Not even hip replacement surgery could stop her.

Miss Farrell (who founded her own company in 2000) retired from performing in 1989, turning her sights to teaching others the art she captured with such ease. Those efforts began, in part, with her 1993 collaboration with the Kennedy Center for “Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell,” a program now in its 12th season.

Last year’s Kennedy Center Honorees were actors Warren Beatty, the late Ossie Davis and his wife Ruby Dee; pop music icon Sir Elton John, opera diva Dame Joan Sutherland and Oscar-winning composer John Williams.

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