The Kennedy Center will celebrate two Latino artists at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, following a controversial year in 2012 in which the chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts had a tempestuous phone conversation with Kennedy Center Michael Kaiser about the annual ceremony’s neglect of Hispanic artists.
This year’s slate, which honors Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine, and Carlos Santana, doubles the number of Latino artists chosen for the prestigious award for artistic excellence, which up until now had only previously been awarded to opera star Placido Domingo and actress and singer Chita Rivera.
Following the controversy, after Sanchez said Kaiser told him to “Go f**k yourself,” the Kennedy Center changed its selection process, appointing a super-committee including Rivera and cellist Yo-Yo Ma to oversee the final decisions. Previous winners and artists such as Glenn Close, Christoph Eschenbach, Alec Baldwin, Renee Fleming, Arturo Sandoval, and Forest Whitaker also made recommendations.
A debate over inclusiveness is presumably not what the Kennedy Center had in mind when it launched the Honors in 1978 with a debut list that included Marian Anderson, Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Richard Rodgers, and Arthur Rubenstein.
This year marks the ceremony’s 35th anniversary, and while it’s undoubtedly a more diverse list of nominees than last year’s—which honored Buddy Guy, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova, and members of the band Led Zeppelin—artistically, it’s much more music-centric than previous years, with two rock stars, a jazz musician, an opera singer, and an actress/singer/author.
One honoree has local ties: MacLaine spent her childhood in Washington and attended Thomas Jefferson High School before graduating from Washington-Lee. She’s best known for her appearances in films such as Terms of Endearment, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1983. Her newest book, What If, comes out November 12.
“The Kennedy Center celebrates five extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world,” said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein.
“Martina Arroyo has dazzled the world with her glorious soprano voice and continues to share her artistry with a new generation of opera singers; Herbie Hancock has established himself as one of the most innovative musicians in the world, constantly breaking musical barriers and redefining the art of jazz; Billy Joel’s melodies have provided the soundtrack of our lives for over four decades, making him one pop music’s most prolific and memorable singers and songwriters; the remarkable breadth and range of Shirley MacLaine’s acting has left an indelible impression over a nearly 60-year career on stage and screen; from his legendary performance at Woodstock to his sweep at the 2000 Grammys and beyond, Carlos Santana’s artistry transcends genres while entertaining millions.”
The Kennedy Center Honors takes place December 8, and will be broadcast on CBS December 29.