Kennedy Center: EWF; Sally; Linda; Sesame St; MTT

Field, Ronstadt, Tilson Thomas

The 42nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air Sunday, December 15 – earlier than usual – at 8 p.m. EST. CBS has broadcast the special each year since its debut. The event will take place on December 8. Earth, Wind & Fire; Sally Field; Linda Ronstadt; Sesame Street; and Michael Tilson Thomas will be celebrated.

Michael Tilson Thomas

Michael Tilson ThomasAmerican conductor, pianist and composer Michael Tilson Thomas is a familiar name. He is currently music director of the San Francisco Symphony, though he announced in 2017 that he would step down in 2020. He’s also “artistic director of the New World Symphony, an American orchestral academy based in Miami Beach, Florida.”

He has his own YouTube channel. NPR mentions him frequently. A 2019 article in Vulture describes him a “disrupter who’s become the comfortable center.”

Michael Tilson Thomas is the only one in this group that had not appeared in this blog before now.

Sally Field

I wrote an extensive post about Sally Field in November 2016 when she turned 70. I’d seen her in everything from Gidget to Sybil to Brothers and Sisters. And she’s still working.

Earth, Wind & Fire

Their introduction on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame page says it well. Earth, Wind & Fire “took jazz, soul, gospel, pop and more and wrapped them in one psychedelic, mystical package.” The band was founded in Chicago by the late Maurice White in 1969.

Rolling Stone offered up 12 essential songs. My personal favorite is Fantasy, as I explained. I own the box set of their music.

You might recognize the name Philip Bailey, the falsetto vocalist, who sang a duet with Phil Collins on Easy Lover.

Linda Ronstadt

My admiration for Linda is huge. For her sixtieth birthday, I explained why I bought her box set when I already owned so much of her music. I advocated that she be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was rightly inducted in 2014.

When she turned 70, I listed about three dozen of my favorite songs by her. I touted the documentary about her, which played at a local theater for months.

Sesame Street

I’ll admit it; I watched Sesame Street when I was in college, as I noted in 2011. The beloved children’s television show was shaped by the African-American communities in Harlem and beyond. Of course, I bought the 10th anniversary music album.

Farmers Insurance has been running a series of ads featuring the Muppets. Take a look at the website and the music of Sesame Street. The USPS to release stamps in honor of show’s 50th anniversary.

Since he won’t be at the event, I suppose I can share, from Business Insider back in 2017: “‘Sesame Street’ has been mocking Trump since 1988 — here are some of the best moments.”

Kennedy Center: Cher, Glass, McEntire, Shorter

Wayne Shorter has a 2018 magnum opus, Emanon

Kennedy Center Honors 2018

“On December 2, 2018, the Kennedy Center held its 41st annual national celebration of the arts — The Kennedy Center Honors.” For the second year in a row, the guy in the White House won’t be there.

“The 2018 Honorees include singer and actress Cher, composer and pianist Philip Glass, Country music entertainer Reba McEntire, and jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.”

I wrote at length about Cher on her 70th birthday a couple years ago. SINCE then, she continues to do concerts, received the Billboard Icon Award, co-starred in the romantic musical comedy film Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and put out a hit album of ABBA covers called Dancing Queen.

She’s now the subject of “The Cher Show, a jukebox musical based on Cher’s life and music, [which] officially premiered at the Oriental Theatre, Chicago, on June 28, 2018, and had its Broadway debut on December 3, 2018.”

Philip Glass (b. 1937) is a minimalist composer. Some soundtrack of his used to drive an old girlfriend of mine crazy when I played it. I have two of his CDs; one is The “Low” Symphony, based on the music of David Bowie.

The other is Songs from Liquid Days, “a collection of songs composed by… Glass with lyrics by Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne, and Laurie Anderson… The recording features performances by Bernard Fowler, the Kronos Quartet, Janice Pendarvis, Douglas Perry, The Roches, Linda Ronstadt…” Listen to Forgetting.

Reba McEntire (b. 1955) is one of the most successful country artists ever; if I have any of her songs, it’s on a random compilation. But she shows up in films, on TV and even on Broadway. She’s ubiquitous.

Wayne Shorter (b. 1933) is a major jazz saxophonist. He played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ jazz quintet in the 1960s. I know him best from the jazz-fusion group Weather Report.

He has a 2018 magnum opus, Emanon. “Encompassing three discs of music (just over two hours) and an original sci-fi graphic novel, the project is a grand statement that seeks to blur distinctions between the premeditated idea and the spontaneous gesture, or between ‘classical’ and ‘jazz’ as they’re usually framed.”

“This year, the co-creators of Hamilton — writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and music director Alex Lacamoire — received a unique Kennedy Center Honors as trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category.”

Though I’ve not yet seen Hamilton, about first Treasury Secretary, I’m in that group that has heard so often that I know the songs as well as I’m familiar with On the Street Where You Live, even though I’ve never seen My Fair Lady.

The writers of JEOPARDY! use Hamilton references a lot, to mixed results: “This musical includes the song ‘The Room Where It Happens'” was a missed Daily Double. No one knew “In the entrance hall of Monticello Jefferson placed a bust of himself opposite one of this Cabinet secretary & rival.”

“The Honors Gala will be broadcast on the CBS Network for the 41st consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Wednesday, December 26 at 8 p.m. ET.” 2017 Honoree Gloria Estefan hosts.

Kennedy Center Honors: Lear, Estefan, Richie…

The Kennedy Center Honors, which took place on Sunday, December 3, will be aired on CBS-TV on Tuesday, December 26 from 9-11 p.m., EST.

Carmen de Lavallade
When the announcement of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors were first announced, I was afraid it might not take place at all. When Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter called [Norman] Lear a few months ago to tell him about his selection, “Lear said he’d be thrilled to have it (at last!)”

But the television pioneer “just couldn’t abide the idea of standing in the White House shaking Trump’s hand. Days after the Kennedy Center announced this year’s honorees, Lear told reporters that he would boycott parts of the event.”

As it turned out, on August 19, 2017, “the White House announced that the President of the United States and the First Lady will not participate in 2017 Kennedy Center Honors activities.” The KCH reps were “grateful for this gesture.”

Norman Lear is the honoree I’m most familiar with. He was the creator and producer of several successful and groundbreaking TV sitcoms in the 1970s including All in the Family, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, all of which I watched for most or all of their runs. And, at 95 he’s STILL working, putting out a new version of One Day at a Time, this iteration with a Hispanic cast.

I did not recognize the name Carmen de Lavallade, but I am quite familiar with two of her cohorts. She “is a multifaceted dancer, choreographer, actor, and teacher… De Lavallade brought [the late] Alvin Ailey to the studio for his first ballet class, which began a long career of collaboration between the two dance world giants.” Her late husband Geoffrey Holder “would choreograph works for [her], including her signature solo Come Sunday.” Here’s a recent profile of her on CBS Sunday Morning.

Lionel Richie has been a massively successful singer-songwriter, first with the group The Commodores (Easy, Brick House, Three Times a Lady) then as a solo artist (Truly, All Night Long, Hello). His duet with Diana Ross, Endless Love, spent nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts in 1981. He wrote Lady for Kenny Rogers, which reached #1 in 1980, and co-wrote the benefit single We Are the World in 1985. Richie was a staple on MTV in its early days.

In 2018, my wife and I will be seeing the musical On Your Feet at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady about the lives of Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio. Their group, the Miami Sound Machine, was big in Latin America but took a bit longer to break into the US market. When the band recording more in English, they started charting with won radio DJs over, and had massive success with songs like Conga!, Anything for You, 1–2–3, and Bad Boy. Theirs is a story of Cuban immigrants who “brought a Latin-infused sound to the American mainstream.”

I was a little surprised to see LL Cool J on the list. It’s not that he hasn’t been enormously successful as a hip hop artist that has crossed over to the mainstream with songs like Around the Way Girl, Hey Lover, Doin It, Luv U Better and Control Myself. It’s that his name doesn’t usually pop up on the list of the best or most influential hip-hop artists. Still, he has segued that musical success into a thriving acting career. He currently appears on NCIS: Los Angeles, which I must admit I’ve never seen.

The Kennedy Center Honors, which took place on Sunday, December 3, will be aired on CBS-TV on Tuesday, December 26 from 9-11 p.m., EST.

X is for excellence: Kennedy Center Honors

Betty Lavette singing Love Reign O’er Me, from the Who’s Quadrophenia album, practically a religious experience

As anyone who has read this blog often enough knows, I watch the Kennedy Center Honors, a designation of excellence, every December just after Christmas.

It is “an annual honor given to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture (though recipients do not need to be U.S. citizens). The Honors have been presented annually since 1978, culminating each December in a star-studded gala celebrating the Honorees in the Kennedy Center Opera House.”

I’m wondering who will host this year. Stephen Colbert has done so since 2014, but given the unkind things the comedian has said about the current White House regime, I can’t imagine that would continue. “The first host was Leonard Bernstein in 1978, followed by Eric Sevareid in 1979 and Beverly Sills in 1980. Walter Cronkite hosted from 1981 to 2002 and Caroline Kennedy hosted from 2003 until 2012. Glenn Close was host in 2013.”

At the gala, the Honors find performers who highlight the work of the recipients, with the recipients, and usually the President and First Lady looking on.

Some particular performances stick in my mind:

2007: Brian Wilson
Libera, boys choir from London, singing Love and Mercy, the debut song from his first solo album
Listen here at 6:20 or here at 13:04

2008 The Who (Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey)
Betty Lavette singing Love Reign O’er Me, from the band’s Quadrophenia album, practically a religious experience
Listen here or here

2012: Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and Jimmy Page, pictured L-R)
Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson perform Stairway to Heaven, from LZ’s fourth album, with the late John Bonham’s son Jason playing the drums
Listen here or here at 13:50

2013: Billy Joel
Garth Brooks and friends singing Goodnight Saigon, from Joel’s Nylon Curtain album
Listen here at 12:33 or here at 12:34

2015: Carole King
Aretha Franklin sings the Goffin-King classic (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, and Carole is SO excited!
Listen here or here

Kennedy Center Honors 2016

James Taylor: “I had no concept of where I might be next week, never mind 16 years into the next century.”

martha-argerichAs I’ve noted often in this space, I watch the Kennedy Center Honors every year. It’s like a well-oiled machine, with the event taking place in early December (this year Sunday, December 4), then edited down for broadcast in a two-hour slot on CBS-TV the week between Christmas and New Year’s (this time, Tuesday, December 27. 9-11 p.m. EST).

The host of CBS’ Late Show, Stephen Colbert, will return to emcee the Kennedy Center Honors 2016; this is his third consecutive year. This year’s honorees are Al Pacino, Martha Argerich, Mavis Staples and James Taylor and the Eagles. Continue reading “Kennedy Center Honors 2016”