Kennedy Center Honors

December 7, 2008 2:46:49 PM PST
Barbra Streisand is visiting the White House on Sunday but says she'll play nice. "Art," she says, "transcends politics this weekend."

Streisand, a vocal critic of President George W. Bush, has the awkward honor of visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during one of Washington's few A-list events.

The singer and actress this year is a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, along with Morgan Freeman, country singer George Jones, dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp and musicians Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who.

The honors recognize individuals who have had an impact on American culture through the performing arts, part of the living memorial to President John F. Kennedy.

After the White House reception, the group will travel with the president and first lady Laura Bush to the performing arts center for a gala in their honor.

Does Streisand wish President-elect Barack Obama was hosting instead?

"That would have been lovely," she said with a laugh, "or Clinton."

"It's just great to be honored by one's own country," Streisand said at a State Department dinner for the honorees Saturday night.

The Kennedy Center Honors come just a month after the presidential election. And Streisand, 66, was one of the most outspoken honorees on politics during the campaign season, saying the past two elections had been "stolen." On the day after the Obama's win, she was riding high.

"November 5th ... what a day ... a new day ... finally (Martin Luther King's) words ring true," Streisand, a longtime Democrat, wrote on her Web site. "I am so proud of our country."

Jones, who earned the nickname "No Show Jones" for performances he missed during his wild days, recently said he expects some teasing along with the accolades at the 31st annual Kennedy Center Honors.

But he promises to show up this time.

As for the nickname, "I've never been able to live that down, and I never will," Jones, 77, said.

Performers from New York, Nashville and Hollywood will salute the honorees with surprise tribute performances Sunday evening. The show will air Dec. 30 on CBS.

Tickets to the gala sell for as much as $4,000. Last year, the event raised $5 million to support Kennedy Center programs.

The awards were presented Saturday night at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She addressed each honoree, beginning with Freeman, who once played the president in the movie "Deep Impact."

"I know that when you played the African-American president of the United States, most people thought that would happen when a comet hit," Rice said, drawing laughs and cheers. "But wonder of wonders, fiction has become true."

Freeman, 71, who starred this year in "The Dark Knight," also made headlines after suffering broken bones in a Mississippi car crash in August. On Saturday, he said he was still recovering from nerve damage in his left hand and wore a glove to control the swelling.

Freeman won an Oscar for his role in "Million Dollar Baby," and his other screen credits include "Driving Miss Daisy" and "The Bucket List."

Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen Schwarzman hailed the "extraordinary genius and tenacity" of the 2008 lifetime achievement award recipients.

Dancer Damian Woetzel hailed Tharp, 67, for "taking a dance and treating it like music." Her work has helped define modern dance, contemporary ballet and Broadway musicals.

Part of the gala will bring a rock concert to the Kennedy Center's Opera House.

Foo Fighters front-man Dave Grohl toasted Townshend, 63, and Daltrey, 64, as singers and songwriters for The Who, for making music unlike any other band.

"I couldn't have done it, if it weren't for The Who," Grohl said. "I don't think I would have had the spark, what it takes to be a rock musician."

Past honorees, including Clint Eastwood, Elton John and Sidney Poitier, made nominations for the awards, along with members of the Kennedy Center's national artists committee, including Glenn Close and Reba McEntire.


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