The annual artistic honors at the Kennedy Center for 2015 features a diverse group of choices, including actress Cicely Tyson, filmmaker George Lucas, actress Rita Moreno, conductor Seiji Ozawa, singer-songwriter Carole King and the pop-rock group The Eagles. This year’s event, the 38th annual, features an expanded class of six honorees instead of the previous five per annum. Reportedly the increase was done to improve racial diversity, an effort that is apparent in this year’s roster of recipients.
“Our honorees represent the voices, soundtracks and stories of our personal lives and memories,” according to a statement by Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubinstein. Often compared to the French Legion of Honor or other national awards, the Kennedy Center Honors recognizes a lifetime of achievement and innovation by artists in diverse fields that have made significant contributions to American culture. The event and award pay tribute to preeminent American artists and those who have distinguished themselves here with performances by stars who have followed in their wake.
The oldest 2015 honoree is 90-year-old Tyson, a Tony and Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee. Throughout her career, the veteran black actress has been known for portraying strong female characters in Sounder (1972), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), Roots (1977), The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994), The Help (2012), and most recently in The Trip to Bountiful (2013 to 2015) on stage and television. Tyson was born in Harlem, New York, to Caribbean immigrant parents.
Moreno, 83, a Puerto Rican actress and singer, is one of the few performers to “EGOT,” win each major American entertainment awards, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. She is best know for playing Anita in the film West Side Story and her struggles against typecasting (She reportedly did not make a movie for seven years after winning the Oscar because all the roles she was offered were stereotypical Latina characters.).
Born in Shenyang, (Manchuria) China, to Japanese parents, classical music director Seiji Ozawa led the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years. The 79-year-old initial was a piano student, but sprained a finger playing rugby while in high school and switched his educational focus to conducting. Ozawa has been music director of the Vienna State Opera since the 2002-2003 season, but has conducted top orchestras worldwide since Leonard Bernstein, appointed him assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1961.
King is a Grammy winning singer-songwriter from New York who wrote a string of hits for others in the 1960s with then-husband Gerry Goffin (Will You Love My Tomorrow, Up On the Roof, The Loco-Motion, and more). She began a solo career as a recording artist after their divorce and released her award-winning, chart-topping album, Tapestry, in 1971. The album, which included You’ve Got a Friend, I Feel the Earth Move and Natural Woman, stayed on the charts for six years straight. She has released several albums since and the 73-year-old became familiar to a new generation via the TV show The Gilmore Girls, where she and her daughter Louise Goffin sang the theme song and King had a recurring role.
Lucas, 71, has brought two epic adventures (as well as plenty of others) to the big screen: The Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie franchises. The California-born filmmaker grew up with a passion for cars that hit the screen in American Graffiti. Besides writing, producing and directing films, he has been instrumental in changing the sound and special effects used throughout the industry through THX Ltd., Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light & Magic.
The Eagles were founded in Los Angeles in 1971 by Don Henley and Glenn Frey with then members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. Originally more country-rock, the group became hugely successful with a harder-edged lineup featuring guitarist Joe Walsh and the release of the iconic song Hotel California and other classic pieces on the album (Life In The Fast Lane and New Kid In Town). They split up in 1980 and many pursued solo careers. The group reunited, returning to the recording studio and stage in 1994 and the group, now in their mid-60s, most recently toured in 2014.
Cicely Tyson, George Lucas, The Eagles and the others named to the diverse list of honors choices for 2015 will be fêted at the White House and a gala at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., that features a cavalcade of guest performers and is attended by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. This year’s gala will be on Dec. 6 and filmed for a television special on Dec. 29.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Los Angeles Times: The Eagles, Carole King among 2015 Kennedy Center honorees
The Kennedy Center: Kennedy Center Honors 2015
New York Times: Cicely Tyson and George Lucas Among Expanded Class of Kennedy Center Honorees
Reuters: The Eagles, George Lucas, Carole King to get Kennedy Center honors
Photo of Cicely Tyson courtesy of Center Theatre Group