Two of the country's foremost gay cultural figures—dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones and Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman—and gay-friendly media sensation Oprah Winfrey will be among the artists saluted at the 33rd annual Kennedy Center Honors in December, reports The Advocate.
The other honorees are musician-songwriters Paul McCartney and Merle Haggard.
Jones founded the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company with his late partner in 1982. Jones has created more than 100 works for his company and also choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet and Berlin Opera Ballet, among many others. In June, Jones won his second Tony for his choreography in Fela!, the musical based on the life of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, known as the main creator of Afrobeat rhythms.
The 79-year-old Jerry Herman wrote the music and lyrics for such brilliant musicals such as Mame, Hello Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles, which is now a hit on Broadway for the third time. Hello Dolly! won 10 Tonys in 1964, an unmatched record at the time.
Oprah Winfrey's selection for the prestigious honors was described as "startling, but not without precedent," by the Washington Post. Already some are saying she does not "deserve" the honor. The LA Times asks, "Is Oprah Worthy of receiving Kennedy Center Honors?" and excerpts some of the criticism
Oprah's vitae as an actress is limited, although it does include an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for "The Color Purple." Naysayers in our message boards assert that she's regarded chiefly as a TV talk show host, but a previous gabfest emcee earned this same honor (Johnny Carson) and Oprah often ballyhoos the performing arts on her TV show. Her detractors may also not be giving her sufficient credit for producing movies like "Beloved" and telefilms like "Tuesdays with Morrie" and "The Women of Brewster Place."
I admire Winfrey greatly, have no problem with lots of honors she might receive. She has been an amazing, vital voice for many years. I question this though. It is known for people who are involved in the creative arts and are known as performers and/or creators. But Carson also was a writer/performer/comedian/actor on his show -- Winfrey is an interviewer only. Her other creative endeavors as an actor and producer are laudible, but not remotely Kennedy Center honor worthy, or on the level of Carson's creative/performing work. I think this award for her is dubious.
Given Oprah Winfrey's enormous impact on the media, television, and the performing arts, it seems like a no-brainer that the pop and cultura icon would be selected for the Kennedy Center honors. Maybe there's something else going on here ....
The honorees will be saluted during a December 5gala and sold-out performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It will be broadcast December 28 on CBS. And speaking of theater and the performing arts ...