Hollywood legend Dick Van Dyke and folk icon Joan Baez are among those receiving this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, one of America’s most prestigious arts awards, which will be distributed at a scaled-back event reimagined due to the pandemic.
Choreographer and actress Debbie Allen, country singer-songwriter Garth Brooks and violinist Midori round out the 43rd class of honorees.
The Kennedy Center — Washington’s performing arts complex that serves as a living monument to slain president John F. Kennedy — was forced to twice postpone its night of red-carpet glitz traditionally held in December due to the coronavirus.
Instead of a single gala, a series of small in-person events with socially distant audiences and virtual tributes is now slated for May 17-22. The honorees will receive their medals during that week.
“This past year has taught us many things including the need to be flexible and adaptable,” Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said in a statement.
“The unusual circumstances inspired and opened up new ways for us to present a deeper experience, and hopefully understanding, of the art and lifetime work of our Honorees. 2020 has also shined a bright light on the impact of how art and culture speaks to our collective human experience.”
A rare night of glamour in the US capital, the Kennedy Center Honors are normally a major fundraiser for the arts institution.
The center has said it expects to lose an estimated $45.7 million in earned income during the 2020-2021 season, after it had to cancel much of its programming.
In a statement, Baez extended her “deepest thanks,” calling it her “life’s joy to make art.”
The prominent peace activist also acknowledged the career of the late congressman John Lewis, saying “it’s also been my life’s joy to make…’good trouble,’ using the civil rights activist’s motto.
For Midori, “artists have a singular responsibility, through our work and deeds, to echo and mirror our society and serve its needs.”
“As a new chapter of life is about to begin for all of us, I especially feel the current moment’s necessities and opportunities to explore a spring of new and preserved energies and discoveries, to play my part in seeking various avenues and forms of creativity and recovery,” she said.
The 2021 awards show will be the first under Joe Biden, the Democrat set to take over the White House next week.
It will mark a new era following four years of Donald Trump — a man despised by many cultural and entertainment figures — who never attended the honors, normally held in the presence of the president.
During his first year in office, several of the honored artists threatened to boycott the event if the Republican went.
Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, particularly enjoyed the annual event, calling participating in the gala “one of the perks of the job.”
“The arts have always been part of life at the White House because the arts are always central to American life,” he said during his last honors weekend in 2016.
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