- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

The folks at Dollywood better clear space for a new exhibit.

Country darling Dolly Parton, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Zubin Mehta, Steven Spielberg and William “Smokey” Robinson represent the Kennedy Center Honors class of 2006, the arts institution announced yesterday. The 29th annual celebration honors excellence in the creative arts, and this year’s group is top-heavy with talent.

“They have transformed the culture of our country and of the world,” says Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman of the class of 2006.

Miss Parton transformed herself from a poor sharecropper’s daughter to the toast of Nashville and beyond. The 60-year-old singer-songwriter began performing as a girl on local television programs, but it didn’t take long for her to conquer bigger stages. Her earliest hits include “Joshua,” “Coat of Many Colors” and “Jolene,” but those numbers only scratched at the surface of her gifts. She embarked on a film career with 1980’s “Nine to Five” and later crossed over to the pop charts with her trademark sass.

The singer’s signature curves proved an easy punch line both for comics and the self-deprecating singer herself, but they couldn’t distract serious music lovers from her gorgeous voice. And just when she seemed comfortable bouncing from films to the top of the charts, she returned to her roots for a series of albums celebrating both her country origins (“Trio”) and her affinity for bluegrass (“The Grass Is Blue”).

Mr. Lloyd Webber’s list of Broadway smashes is an embarrassment of riches, but it’s only a partial tale of his achievements.

Born into a deeply musical family, the now 58-year-old composer built on that foundation to create stories drawn from every aspect of life. Who else could turn to alley cats and Jesus Christ alike for inspiration with such tuneful results?

From “Evita” to “The Phantom of the Opera,” Mr. Lloyd Webber showed an incomparable knack for entertaining the masses even if some critics sniffed at his crowd-pleasing spectacles. He also scored successes beyond the stage, penning hit songs for Madonna, Sarah Brightman, David Essex and Michael Crawford, among others.

Through the years, he collected seven Tony Awards, an Oscar and three Grammys and used his clout to help restore seven London theaters to support the creative arts, among other philanthropic projects.

Mr. Mehta’s affinity for conducting has done more than bring him international fame. It has let him visit — and play in — some of the hottest spots on the globe, from Sarajevo to Tel Aviv and, more recently, Madras, India, where the 2004 tsunami hit.

The 60-year-old Bombay native considered a career in medicine before discovering his talents in music. The young Mehta won the Liverpool International Conducting Competition in 1958, the first of many honors.

His budding reputation helped land him the music director’s chair of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, which he held from 1961 to 1967, and during those years he simultaneously filled the same position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Other prestigious titles followed, and his work so far has seen him conduct more than 2,000 performances on five continents.

Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson “America’s greatest living poet.”

The multitalented Mr. Robinson helped write — and perform — the soundtrack of a generation. Combining gifts for sinuous melodies, succinct narratives and memorable catchphrases, he emerged as the prolific composer of many of the legendary Motown label’s signature hits, including “The Tears of a Clown,” “I Second That Emotion,” “My Girl,” “Shop Around” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”

Oh, and did we mention that the silkily soulful singer with the quavering tenor also fronted one of the label’s — and the era’s — premier R&B; vocal groups, the Miracles?

Mr. Robinson, 66, originally teamed with two cousins to sing doo-wop at clubs in Detroit, but the band soon changed its name from the Five Chimes to the Matadors to the Miracles. The latter name stuck, and fame followed after Mr. Robinson began collaborating with Berry Gordy Jr., the man who would create the Motown sound.

Name a blockbuster from the past three decades, and there’s a fair chance the 59-year-old Mr. Spielberg made it happen.

The young director’s first movie, the 1971 telepicture “Duel,” left its televised peers in the dust. “The Sugarland Express” followed three years later, but the film that forced the world to learn his name came the following year.

“Jaws” set in motion the modern film blockbuster as well as the career of the most successful — and arguably the finest — American director of his time.

Mr. Spielberg went on to dazzle us with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) “E.T.” (1982) and “Jurassic Park” (1993), but he also directed intricate character pieces including “The Color Purple” (1985) and “Empire of the Sun” (1987).

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed its best-director Oscar on Mr. Spielberg for his stunning “Schindler’s List” (1993), the only question left was, “What took so long?”

The Kennedy Center Honors will be given officially to the quintet Dec. 2 at a gala to be hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The telecast of the following day’s Honors Gala, held annually at the Kennedy Center, will air as a two-hour special on CBS at a later date.

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