Sally Field, Linda Ronstadt, veteran R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire, “Sesame Street” and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, will be recognized at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors, the organization announced on Thursday.
The 42nd annual awards will take place on Dec. 8 and will be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 15 on CBS.
This year’s awards will be the first time an individual TV show has been recognized, and “Sesame Street” co-founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Dr. Lloyd Morrisett will accept the Kennedy Center Honors on behalf of themselves, Muppets creator Jim Henson (who died in 1990), Muppets artists Caroll Spinney and Frank Oz, and the thousands of creatives who have built the program’s 50-year legacy.
Earth, Wind & Fire, which has featured at least over a dozen members in its time as a band, are being honored collectively as a musical group. Members Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson will be present to accept the Kennedy Center Honors on the band’s behalf.
“The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates icons who, through their artistry, have left an indelible stamp on our collective cultural consciousness,” Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a statement. “Earth, Wind & Fire’s hooks and grooves are the foundation of a seminal style that continues to shape our musical landscape; Sally Field has brought us unforgettable characters, both joyous and poignant, for more than five decades; Linda Ronstadt is the defining voice of a generation, spanning genres, languages and continents; ‘Sesame Street’ continues to revolutionize how children and adults learn about our world; and Michael Tilson Thomas goes far beyond keeping score – he has shaped American music and musical institutions for the 21st century.”
“In this class of Honorees, we are witnessing a uniquely American story: one that is representative of so many cultural touchstones and musical moments that make our nation great,” Kennedy Center president Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement. “When I look at this distinctive group, I see the hopes, aspirations and achievements not just of these artists, but of the many generations they have influenced and continue to influence. We’re not just looking back – these Honorees are urging us to look forward as well.”
The Honors recipients are recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts – whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television – and are confirmed by the executive committee of the Center’s board of trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement. Over the years, the selection process has produced a balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.
Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will executive produce the special for the fifth consecutive year. Weiss returns as director.
Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) over their five-decade history have scored eight #1 hits, nine Grammys and sold over 100 million albums worldwide, In 2000, Earth, Wind & Fire was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the band has also received lifetime achievement honors from ASCAP, NAACP and BET, and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Field is a two-time Oscar winner for “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart” and is also the star of “Forrest Gump,” “Lincoln,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Absence of Malice,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and many more. She’s also a three-time Emmy winner and began her career with the 1964 show “Gidget” before starring in “The Flying Nun” and on the miniseries “Sybil,” among many other roles in TV, film and on Broadway. In 2015, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. Her memoir, “In Pieces,” was published last September.
Ronstadt has sold 50 million albums worldwide and has won 10 Grammys as a versatile singer across pop, country, rock, big band, jazz and opera. She performed her last concert in 2009 and announced her retirement from singing shortly thereafter. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and received the National Medal of Arts in 2014. In early 2019, Rhino Entertainment released “Linda Ronstadt – Live in Hollywood,” her first and only live concert album, originally recorded on April 24, 1980.
“Sesame Street” debuted in 1969 on PBS and continues to this day, now on HBO. Ganz Cooney and Dr. Morrisett co-founded the Children’s Television Workshop (renamed Sesame Workshop in June 2000) in 1968, and “Sesame Street” launched the following year. Cooney, a producer and media executive, served as Sesame Workshop’s president and chief executive officer until 1990, and currently serves as chairman of the executive committee of Sesame Workshop’s board. In November 2007, she introduced the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, dedicated to advancing children’s learning in a digital age. Dr. Morrisett is an experimental psychologist by training. After 30 years as chairman of the Workshop’s board of trustees, he is now a trustee and chairman emeritus.
Tilson Thomas is music director of the San Francisco Symphony, co-founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony, and conductor laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. He’s an 11-time Grammy winner and has conducted major orchestras across the US and Europe.The Los Angeles-born musician performed with such artists as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. He became music director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1995.