Kennedy Center Honors Six Artists for Life's Work

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith.


And I'm Steve Ember. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is a major cultural center in America. For the past thirty years, the center has presented awards to honor artists for their lifetime of work.

On Sunday, December seventh, it will honor six outstanding performers.

(MUSIC: "Don't Rain On My Parade")

That voice is one of the most recognizable in the world. It belongs to Barbra Streisand. At the age of nineteen, Barbra Streisand won her first part in a Broadway musical. The year was nineteen sixty-two and the character was Miss Marmelstein in the play, "I Can Get It for You Wholesale." The part was small but Streisand earned a Tony nomination and lots of attention.

Her first recording, "The Barbra Streisand Album," came out in nineteen sixty-three. It won two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.It made her a star.

Many albums followed. Fifty went "gold," selling at least a half-million copies. Barbra Streisand also has thirteen "platinum" albums, those that sold at least one million copies.

In nineteen sixty-eight Barbra Streisand made her first movie. It was the film version of the Broadway musical, "Funny Girl." The movie was a huge hit. Barbara Streisand won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

(MUSIC: "People Who Need People")

The singer/actress continued to make albums and movies. She also began to produce and direct movies.In nineteen eighty-three, Barbra Streisand became the first woman to write, direct, produce and star in a major film. The movie, "Yentl," won great critical praise. Barbra Streisand has won many awards in her long career.

(SOUND: "March of The Penguins")

The next Kennedy Center honoree also has an unmistakable voice. The deep, warm sound of seventy-one year old actor Morgan Freeman has been heard in more than fifty movies and documentaries. But, you might not know this serious dramatic actor spent many years in children's television.Freeman was a performer on the show "The Electric Company" for much of the nineteen seventies.

In nineteen eighty-nine, two movies changed Morgan Freeman's career forever. In "Glory," he starred as an officer in the first all-black volunteer group of federal troops in the American Civil War. In "Driving Miss Daisy," he became friends with his employer, an old, independent, difficult woman. 

Morgan Freeman got his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for that movie. But he did not win one until two thousand four. That was for his performance as a former professional fighter in the Clint Eastwood movie, "Million Dollar Baby."

(SOUND: "Million Dollar Baby")

Morgan Freeman recently returned to live theater in a Broadway production of the Clifford Odets play, "The Country Girl."

(MUSIC: "Why Baby Why")

George Jones first sang that unforgettable song in nineteen fifty-five. The following year Billboard magazine named him the most promising country music singer. It was right. He has had one of the most hit-filled careers in country music.

The seventy-seven year old singer was born in Texas. He began singing on the streets of Beaumont as a child. He was a teenager when he left home to seek musical fame and riches. But first he served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.


That song, "White Lightning," was Jones' first to hit number one on Billboard's country music charts. The year was nineteen fifty-nine and he was twenty-eight.

The Kennedy Center notes that while Jones is often called cool, his style of singing is extremely personal. It says George Jones always means every note and word he sings. His feelings are real and the music is true.

George Jones married country singer Tammy Wynette in nineteen sixty-nine. She was his third wife. They made some of the greatest country duets ever. Here is one, "We're Gonna' Hold On."


The "Silver-Haired Possum," as he is called, has held on through a lot of hard times. His father was dependent on alcohol. George Jones also developed the disease and was dependent on the drug cocaine. He suffered financially and professionally as a result. He became known as "no-show Jones" for missing performances. He has since recovered.

George Jones was admitted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in nineteen ninety-two. President Bush presented him with a National Medal of Arts ten years later.

(MUSIC: "Movin' Out")


American dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp was born in Indiana and raised there and in California.Her mother, a piano teacher, realized that Twyla had a musical gift when she was still a baby. Twyla started dancing lessons when she was just four. She says dancing is how she most enjoyed spending time as a child. And she says it was the way she always identified herself.

Tharp moved to New York City and studied art history at Barnard College. She also studied dance under famous teachers like Martha Graham and Paul Taylor.

Twyla Tharp graduated from Barnard in nineteen sixty-three. Two years later, Twyla Tharp Dance opened. From the start her work was different. For example, she used a lot of jazz music.Sometimes she mixed it with classical pieces.

She also used completely new dance movements. There might be a sudden, playful lift and drop of the shoulders, or the dancers might hop around. Tharp often combined ballet with common movements like walking, running or sliding. Her dances were often playful, edgy, humorous and always daring.


Twyla Tharp started to work with major ballet companies. The Joffrey Ballet first performed her work, "Deuce Coupe," set to the music of the Beach Boys.

Twyla Tharp also choreographed for films, starting with Milos Forman's movie version of the Broadway musical, "Hair." She also wrote two books, produced dance specials for television and developed and directed several Broadway dance musicals. She won a Tony Award for "Movin' Out," which was set to the music of pop rocker Billy Joel.

At sixty-seven, Tharp has won many awards. They include the National Medal of Arts and a MacArthur Fellowship.

(MUSIC: "Who Are You?")

They are Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, that's who. They are the driving force of the British rock band The Who. Both men were born in London. Daltry is sixty-three. Townshend is sixty-four. But they were still teenagers in separate bands when they met. Pete Townshend played rhythm guitar and Roger Daltry sang. Joined by Pete Entwhistle on bass and Keith Moon on drums, The Who formed in nineteen sixty-four.

Pete Townshend became the main songwriter for the band early on. He gained fame for his extremely energetic performances, which sometimes ended with Townshend destroying his guitar on stage.

(MUSIC: "My Generation")

Their first album, "My Generation," was released in nineteen sixty-five after their first hit single, "I Can't Explain." Hit after hit followed throughout the nineteen sixties.

The Who experimented. In nineteen sixty-seven they put out an album that played like radio programming. It contained commercials and station identifications and talk. A short time later came the rock opera "Tommy."

Roger Daltry became "Tommy" in the extraordinary concert performances that followed its creation. Later, he earned critical praise for his work in the movie, "Tommy." Daltry apparently liked acting. He has continued to do so, on stage and television.

The Who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has received many other music awards and honors.

(MUSIC: "I Can See For Miles")

This program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.