kennedy center honors

Kennedy Center Honorees Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Meryl Streep and Sonny Rollins (not pictured) occupy Presidential Box at The Kennedy Center with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (Photo credit: Jacquelin Martin/AP Photos)

*On Sunday evening, December 4, 2011, the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. hosted its annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony to pay tribute to this year’s visionaries in the performing arts for their lifetime achievements.

Hosted by Caroline Kennedy, the highly praised 2011 Kennedy Center Honors were bestowed on Tony Award winner Barbara Cook; singer and songwriter Neil Diamond; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins; and Academy Award winner Meryl Streep during a star-studded celebration.

The elegant evening featured a live cavalcade of celebrity performances by fellow stars of stage and screen from New York, Hollywood, and the arts capitals of the world through live performances on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage.  The event which is produced by George Stevens, Jr. and Michael Stevens will be broadcast on CBS on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 9:00-11:00 p.m., ET/PT.

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Kennedy Center Honorees with presenters: Clockwise from top-left: George Stevens, Jr., creator of The Kennedy Center Honors; Yo-Yo Ma; Meryl Streep; Neil Diamond; David M. Rubenstein, Chairman of John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Michael M. Kaiser, President, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Barbara Cook; Sonny Rollins; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Photo credit: Getty Images)

The annual honors gala has become the highlight of the Washington cultural year, and its broadcast on CBS is a high point of the television season.  Seated with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama joined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton, the honorees accepted the thanks of their peers and fans through performances and heartfelt tributes.

“They have different talents, and they’ve travelled different paths, and yet they belong here together because each of tonight’s honorees has felt the need to express themselves and share that expression with the world,” stated President Obama about the honorees.

The President and the First Lady, radiant in Vera Wang’s sapphire chiffon gown, received the proud honorees and members of the artists committee who nominated them, along with the Kennedy Center board of trustees at the White House prior to the gala performance.  The ceremony concluded with a post-show dinner dance in the Grand Foyer featuring entertainment by the CJO band.

The Kennedy Center Honors medallions were presented on Saturday, December 3, the night before the gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary Clinton who flew home from Myanmar for a 36-hour stop in the capital to join the celebration.

The Honors recipients are recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts and are selected by the Center’s board of trustees – whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television.

The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence.  The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

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