The annual Kennedy Center Honors, originally scheduled for December, fell victim to the pandemic. A scaled-down 2021 ceremony will broadcast on June 6, 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
The 43rd Kennedy Center Honors awardees agreed this year’s event felt better because there was more time to spend with one another. This year’s awardees are multi-disciplinary artist, choreographer and actress Debbie Allen; singer-songwriter and activist Joan Baez; country singer-songwriter Garth Brooks; violinist Midori; and actor Dick Van Dyke.
A Different Honoree Ceremony Year
“This past year has taught us many things including the need to be flexible and adaptable,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter. “The unusual circumstances inspired new ways for us to present a deeper experience, and hopefully understanding, of the art and lifetime work of our honorees. Last year also shined a bright light on the impact of how art and culture speak to our collective human experiences.
The gala was one of several activities held for the honorees. Included was a White House visit with President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden. During a pre-ceremony press briefing the day of the gala, Rutter asked Baez about something she did at the White House. Baez immediately belted out in perfect voice to the delight of reporters, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” This Freedom Song was one of many sung by the Freedom Singers during the civil rights movement.
Presenting the Honorees
Allen, a Howard University alumna, is currently director/actress on the television show “Grey’s Anatomy.” This is one of many roles in entertainment she has enjoyed. Out of the five awardees, Allen has the most experience directly with the Kennedy Center over the past 20 years. She has been a choreographer and performer for the Kennedy Center Honors. Allen has also been an artist-in-residence creating more than eight productions for young audiences at the Kennedy Center. She has also been a member of the Artists Committee for Kennedy Center Honors.
“This award is for a body of work and it is so impactful. It’s very humbling for me having worked here for decades,” said Allen. “It’s an acknowledgment of my work and it is a level of respect. It is so appreciated.”
Baez successfully merged folk music with social and political consciousness. As a veteran of the movement, she shared her thoughts on the social and civil rights reckoning we are experiencing.
“We all have biases; some think they don’t. It remains to be seen what we’ve learned from the last four years. We can’t do anything but come up,” said Baez.
Midori made her debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 11. At age 21 she started her Midori and Friends Foundation to bring music education to young people in underserved communities.
“From an early age, I have been gifted with extraordinary experiences. I consider them to be my treasure and fortune that I might now draw upon. I wish to accomplish much going forward,” said Midori
Brooks still seemed stunned to be on the stage. For the past 35 years, he heightened country music’s profile like no other singer before him. Brooks has an international imprint.
“I have watched many of my heroes sit in that booth during their ceremony, I have even had the joyous honor of singing for some of them on their special night,” said Brooks.
Dick Van Dyke at age 95 was clearly the “Belle of the Ball” among fellow honorees. His iconic role as Rob Petrie on the “Dick Van Dyke Show” is one that fans continue to enjoy though it went off the air in 1966.
“My best memories of are the five years working with Carl,” said Van Dyke referencing his career and this show created and produced by Carl Reiner and Sheldon Leonard. “Everybody looked forward to coming to work every day. Nothing was written in stone. We all got to put our five cents worth in. It was so much fun.”
Learn more about the Kennedy Center Honors at https://www.kennedy-center.org