Every Year the Kennedy Center Honors Five Artists for a Lifetime of Excellence

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm Barbara Klein. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. is one of the official cultural centers of America. For the past thirty years, the center has presented awards honoring five artists for their lifetime of work.

These artists were chosen this year for the Kennedy Center Honors:  The singers Diana Ross and Brian Wilson. The actor and writer Steve Martin. The pianist Leon Fleisher. And the film director Martin Scorsese.  They will be honored this Sunday, December second.


"Good Vibrations" and the other songs Brian Wilson wrote for The Beach Boys remain as fresh and energizing today as they were forty years ago.  Wilson started the band with his two brothers, a cousin and a friend in the early nineteen sixties. The Beach Boys made a new kind of American rock music popular. Their songs express the fun of being young, enjoying girls, driving cars and surfing the ocean in California.

Brian Wilson not only wrote The Beach Boys' songs. He also sang, played the bass guitar and keyboard, and produced the band's records.  Some experts believe that their album "Pet Sounds" was one of the most inventive and important records in rock music history.

The Beach Boys were also one of the most popular bands in America during a time when the British band The Beatles were capturing the attention of the world.


Steve Martin is a popular writer, actor and comedian. He is also a skilled banjo player. Martin first started his career writing for funny television shows like "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." In the nineteen seventies he began performing his funny jokes and acts on the weekly television program "Saturday Night Live."


Steve Martin: "You know, a lot of people ask me if Steve Martin is my real name. Have I changed it for show business or anything like that. And, now I am not ashamed to admit it. Because I did have a funny name when I was a kid, and I decided to change it for show business. But I think enough time has gone by and audiences are more sophisticated now that they won't laugh at my real name. My real name is bybybuhbuh … So my parents had a sense of humor. My sister's name is hurhurhurhr  . And my mother would go out to  call us for dinner and she'd go bybybuhbuh! Hrrhrhr bbrbrb! So, we had to move around a lot. But other than that I had a very normal childhood."

He also won Grammy awards for the records of his live comedy performances, one of which you just heard.

Steve Martin has also made over thirty-five movies, many of which he helped write. These include "The Jerk", "All of Me", "Parenthood", and, more recently, "Shopgirl."

Martin has written articles, books and successful plays such as "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." He wrote a book about his years of performing as a comedian, "Born Standing Up," that was released last week. His next movie will be "Pink Panther Deux."


That was a recording of the pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher playing part of Schubert's Sonata in B Flat Major.  Fleisher began studying the piano at the age of four. By the time he was sixteen, he was playing with the New York Philharmonic. Leon Fleisher traveled far and wide playing in the finest concert halls in the world and also recording music. In nineteen sixty-five, a neurological disorder called dystonia forced Fleisher to rethink his career. He lost the use of his right hand, but he did not let this stop him.

Leon Fleisher poured his energy into teaching and also conducting groups of musicians.  He also began to specialize in performing piano music written for the left hand. In the nineteen nineties, doctors began to treat Fleisher's damaged hand with Botox injections.

Over time, Leon Fleisher recovered and started playing piano works for both hands once again. He has said that if he could relive his life, he would not change what happened to his hand. He says his experience helped him become a much better musician and teacher.


That was a scene from the movie "Goodfellas", directed by Martin Scorsese. Many people consider him one of the greatest living American film directors. Scorsese is best known for his movies about characters linked to crime and violence. Many of his movies are about Italian-American characters.  Still, over the years, he has made movies about many subjects. "Kundun" tells the story of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.  "The Aviator" is about the American businessman Howard Hughes. Scorsese also brought to life periods from the American past in movies like "Gangs of New York" and  "The Age of Innocence."

His latest movie, "The Departed," is about opposing groups of criminals and police officers.  It won four Academy Awards last year, including best director and best movie.  Martin Scorsese has also made documentary movies about musicians, including Bob Dylan. He will soon release a movie about the Rolling Stones.


That was the clear, sweet voice of Diana Ross singing "You Can't Hurry Love" with her back-up singers. The Supremes were from Detroit, Michigan. They became one of the most popular female singing groups of the nineteen sixties. The Supremes mixed the sounds of popular music with the soulful music born in Detroit called Motown. By nineteen seventy, Diana Ross had left the band to sing on her own. She made many best-selling records including "Diana Ross", "Surrender" and "diana."

Diana Ross also acted in television shows and movies. Her performance as Billie Holiday in the movie "Lady Sings the Blues" earned her an Academy Award nomination.

Over the years, Ross has won many American Music Awards. Billboard magazine named her the "Entertainer of the Century." The Guinness Book of World Records called Diana Ross the Most Successful Recording Artist of All Time. Her most recent album "I Love You" came out earlier this year.

Brian Wilson, Steve Martin, Leon Fleisher, Martin Scorsese and Diana Ross are remarkable performers. On Sunday, the Kennedy Center will honor them for sharing their artistic gifts with people all over the world.


Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm Barbara Klein. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.