Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kennedy Center Hits Home Run with Tomlin, But Must Do Better!

Weeks ago, the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors were announced; Lily Tomlin, Tom Hanks, Sting, Al Green, and Patricia McBride are the nation's honorees this year. 

Full disclosure, I'm very biased in regard to Lily Tomlin. Ms. Tomlin and her family have been dear friends of mine for several years. I spoke with Lily's brother-in-law, Michael Langston, who shared that the family was "very proud" of the news! How could they not be? Lily's body of work is not only legendary, but it also has crossed genres and is multigenerational. This is one of the times Michael Kaiser and the Honors committee have gotten it right.

All the inductees are very talented in their respective categories, but is it to soon in their careers to get America's highest honor for performing arts? As amazing and talented as Tom Hanks and Sting are, I think it's a decade to soon for these men. 

The Kennedy Center Honors have created a trend of overlooking some of America's greatest icons who paved the way in their respective fields of the performing arts. Snubbing these aging 
innovators is not only a tragic disregard for the historic record of the performing arts in our country, but it also cheapens the credibility of the presentation. Have the Kennedy Center Honors become another excuse for a television special? Do they truly seek to honor the careers of those who've impacted the arts? I'm puzzled with the tiny window of knowledge the committee has for performing artists. 

How many artists from the fields of Bluegrass or Gospel Music have you known that receieved a Kennedy Center Honor? After neglecting the Latina community over the years, a special committee was formed. Country Music   has been missing for the last three years nor much inclusion since the inception of the Honors. 

Lily's induction serves as a reminder of how very few female comedians have broke through the wall of acceptance also. A great example being the late Joan Rivers. With Rivers's death, we are aware that she was beloved globally, but it reminded the world how groundbreaking she was. Joan was one of the first female comedic pioneers, the only female to sit as permanent guest host for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, and the very first female to host her own late night talk show. Her Emmy Award winning daytime talk show displayed her comedy yet showcased how great of an interviewer she was. Rivers daytime talk show also introduced a segment that sparred a spin off by the same name, "Gossip, Gossip, Gossip", the foundation for shows like The Wendy Williams Show and TMZ. The red carpet media frenzy taking place today all started when this petite blonde woman held a microphone and asked celebrities, "Who are you wearing?". Television, Broadway, comedy, films, literature, and even reality television helped Joan Rivers have a career the lasted well over 50 years. Had her unexpected death not took place, there would be no telling how much longer Joan Rivers would have burst doors open for men and women alike in the comedic genre.

A major hit to The Kennedy Cebter Honors credibility was the selection of Oprah Winfrey in 2010. Many felt it was a payback for her presence in the Obama Presidential campaign. Whatever the reason, it's hard to feel that her work in the performing arts is worthy of a Kennedy Center Honor! Yes, Winfrey had costarred in a couple movies and made for TV films, they were hit and miss success wise. Her major success was The Oprah Winfrey Show and her work as a journalist. Before Oprah Winfrey deserved a Kennedy Center Honor, shouldn't Barbara Walters have been a recipient? Walters's career in journalism was a victory for women in media, and every female in television journalism owes  her a great debt. From her Most Fascinating People TV specials to her creation of daytime TV's The View, Ms. Walters is far more deserving than Oprah for this honor. (Side note: Wouldn't Phil Donahue been more deserving since he was owning his talk show chops before Oprah was even heard of?)

Personally, I don't think the Kennedy Center Honors have lost their credibility; however I do think they need to research more deserving honorees. It's a shame that we lose so many stars to death while their protégés accept the honor. An insider has shared with me that while their objective is to honor the artists, it's also beheld to TV ratings. Ratings now play a heavy hand in who is selected and whether or not they can obtain A-list performers to do that particular artists' presentation package. Also out of sight, out of mind, though you would think someone deserving of Lifetime Achievement has a body of work behind them and may not be setting sail in front of our eyes as often in the present. For me, the Kennedy Center Honors big wigs need to do their homework more for me to be as excited with the selections these days.

Here's my list of overlooked artists most deserving of The Kennedy Center Honors. 

LITTLE RICHARD- He's the architect of Rock and Roll. A singer, songwriter, entertainer, actor and musician who was the influenced many past honorees. Little Richard is 81 years old. Must we go another year of a middle aged rocker being honored?

CAROL CHANNING- It's inexcusable that the Grand Dame of Broadway hasn't been an Honoree. Spending most of her 93 years of life on stage or promoting theater and the arts, should she go a few more years watching folks like Twyla Tharpe being honored? Hello? Many Broadway stars have been honorees, yet none are as known, as successful, nor have the rich history and cross over success that Carol Channing has! 

BURT REYNOLDS- There was a time when Burt Reynolds was the biggest box office draw around. If you were to take Brad Pitt and George Clooney together, it still wouldn't compare to Burt's fame in his day. During his career, he has completed almost 100 films! At 78, Burt has been plagued with major health issues yet still continues to work passionately to promote the arts with the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater. 

LIZA MINNELLI- If there were anyone with the arts swimming in their DNA, it has to be Liza. She was born to parents Vincent Minnelli, a famed feature film director, and the iconic movie star and singer, Judy Garland. Liza's Oscar winning performance in the film Cabaret, is only one of nearly 30 films. Minnelli has won a total of four Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, two Golden Globes, and the prestigious Grammy Legend Award for her influence in the recording industry. Though only 68 years old, she began her career in 1949. Liza has had many health issues, most recently with her back.

DEBBIE REYNOLDS- To many, Debbie will always be known for her historic performance as Tammy, but she's made nearly 70 films, most recently a role in Behind The Candelabra. From Broadway, theatre touring companies, and musical concerts, Debbie is a veteran performer. Though she is 82, Debbie is feisty and loves to work. In 2012, Debbie suffered a health scare. 

FATS DOMINO- Credited for bringing the Blues to the forefront, Fats Domino is respected by recording artists of all styles of music. His hits like "Blueberry Hill" and "I'm Walkin'" are just some songs in his 35 top 40 hits! His piano playing, grisly voice, and big smile were loved by many. Now at 86, he keeps his time in his beloved New Orleans.

JANE FONDA- Jane's career became active in 1959. Among her major feature films, she won Oscars for both Klute and Coming Home. Fonda's major hit films challenged people to use their minds. On Golden Pond brought the issue of strained relationships, generation gaps. Nine to Five took on women in the workplace during a time of unfair treatment and pay. Jane became a sci-fi legend with her sexy role in Barbarella. A personal favorite of mine is a lesser acclaimed Fonda film, Agnes Of God. Starring in 45 or more films, sometimes her work on Broadway and the stage gets overshadowed. Currently, Jane is costarring with Lily Tomlin for a comedy series for Netflix. At 76, Jane looks better than ever and so does her career.  

KENNY ROGERS- At 76, Kenny has sold over 165 million records. His recording of the song "The Gambler" also lead to five made for TV films based on the song. Rogers built an empire outside of his performing career, yet never left his recording and performing. Rogers has starred in fourteen made for TV films. His duet with Dolly Parton, "Islands In The Stream" is one of the greatest selling singles of all time.


Is there someone you feel has been overlooked? The Kennedy Center is accepting submissions from their website. The following link has the online submission: 
http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/specialevents/honors/

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