Tonight the forty-second annual Kennedy Center Honors bestowed recognition on five people or groups for dedication to their particular artistic endeavors and their commitment to enhancing the cultural world around them. (Note: The event was on December 8, but was televised this evening.)
It’s a lifetime achievement award, so someone like the current winner of a television talent show isn’t even in the running. Instead, these honorees are probably all closer to my age.
The first honoree was singer Linda Ronstadt, who no longer performs due to Parkinson’s disease. Next was actress Sally Field, who overcame being Gidget and The Flying Nun to be taken seriously and win Oscars for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart later in her career. Then came Sesame Street, the first television show to be honored in totem for its fifty years of work enchanting and educating children. Michael Tilson Thomas and Earth, Wind, and Fire rounded out the five nominees.
The format of the event was to introduce the honoree; tell something impressive about him, her, or them; and then recreate moments in their lives as they dissolved into tears. Tonight’s show featured Carrie Underwood channeling Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou,” Tom Hanks revealing his friendship with Sally Field, Big Bird trying to get onstage in time for his number, musicians mentored by Tilson-Thomas performing his work, and – finally – Earth, Wind, and Fire’s tribute which gave due to deceased founder Maurice White’s vision. It was all bittersweet and a musical catalog of my own growing up.
An Aside Here: In the past, sitting presidents from Jimmy Carter through Barack Obama have attended. The current White House occupant has had three opportunities to join them and support our ever-changing cultural heritage. He has never come, and I supposed it’s because he’s not really interested in culture and the arts. Except to slash their budgets.