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Kennedy Center Honors

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate the work of five famous performing artists on Sunday, December eighth. They will be honored for many years of excellence. I'm Mary Tillotson. And I'm Steve Ember. We tell about the winners of this year's Kennedy Center Honors on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

((MUSIC: "MARCH" FROM "AIDA"))

The lights of the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, DC, will shine next Sunday on five famous performing artists. The Kennedy Center will honor orchestra conductor and pianist James Levine (lah-VINE), actress Elizabeth Taylor and actor James Earl Jones. Other honorees are singer and songwriter Paul Simon and actress, dancer and singer Chita Rivera.

Musical conductor and pianist James Levine (lah-VINE) is the youngest Kennedy Center Honors winner this year. The artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City is fifty-nine years old. For thirty of those years Mr. Levine has helped make the Metropolitan Opera one of the best in the world. He also will direct the Boston Symphony Orchestra beginning in two-thousand-four.

James Levine was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. At age ten, he played piano with the Cincinnati Symphony. He led his first Metropolitan Opera performance at age twenty-seven. In just four more years he became the opera's musical director. Listen as James Levine leads the Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus in music from "Aida" by Giuseppe Verdi.

The Kennedy Center also is honoring actress and humanitarian Elizabeth Taylor. She has been acting for sixty of her seventy years. She has appeared in almost sixty movies.

Ms. Taylor has won two Academy Awards for best leading actress from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. She also has received many other honors from the film industry.

Elizabeth Taylor was born in London, England. But her American parents took her to live in California before World War Two.Elizabeth first gained widespread fame in the movie "National Velvet" when she was only twelve years old. Later she gave outstanding performances in great films like "Giant," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." Her first appearance in the theater earned her honors and critical praise. Ms. Taylor appeared in "The Little Foxes" in nineteen-eighty-one.

Two years later a close friend of Ms. Taylor, actor Rock Hudson, died of the disease AIDS. This death led her to support and establish several organizations for AIDS research and treatment. Elizabeth Taylor has raised more than one-hundred-million dollars for the struggle against AIDS.

The Kennedy Center is also honoring James Earl Jones. Mr. Jones is known for his commanding acting presence and deep voice. Over the years he has played in theater, films and on radio and television. In the nineteen-sixties, he was one of the first African American actors to have a continuing part in daytime television dramas. Critics have praised his work in plays by William Shakespeare and as the voice of Darth Vader in the first "Star Wars" movies.

James Earl Jones was born in the state of Mississippi in nineteen-thirty-one. He grew up in Michigan, cared for by his grandparents. As a child he suffered from a severe speech problem. This prevented him from talking much. He began to develop his voice with acting lessons at the University of Michigan. He had gone there to study medicine. Instead, he decided to become an actor.

Here is James Earl Jones reading from "Lincoln Portrait" by Aaron Copland.

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history." That is what he said. That is what Abraham Lincoln said. "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We -- even we here -- hold the power and bear the responsibility."

The Kennedy Center also is honoring singer and songwriter Paul Simon. His beautiful melodies have deeply influenced American music. Paul Simon has won many Grammy awards for the finest single records and collections of songs.

Paul Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey in nineteen-forty-one. He went to high school in New York City. There he met Art Garfunkel, another student deeply interested in music. Paul Simon art Art Garfunkel soon began creating music together. At age sixteen, they recorded a song called "Hey Schoolgirl." It sold many copies. The song led to an appearance on the popular television program "American Bandstand."

The two musical friends combined their voices again in nineteen-sixty-four on the song "Wednesday Morning, Three A-M." Simon and Garfunkel were a successful singing team for several years. Their songs in the nineteen-sixty-seven film "The Graduate" became especially famous.

In the early nineteen-seventies, Paul Simon started working alone. Since then he has produced many new songs. Some have included musical traditions and musicians from South Africa and Brazil. In nineteen-ninety he was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here are Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel singing Paul Simon's song, "Mrs. Robinson."

The Kennedy Center is honoring Broadway and nightclub star Chita Rivera for many years of outstanding acting, singing and dancing. Chita Rivera was born in Washington, DC, in nineteen-thirty-three. Her father was a musician who was born in Puerto Rico. He died when Chita was a young girl. Her mother supported her five children by working in a government office.

In nineteen-forty-nine, Chita won money to attend George Balanchine's School of American Ballet. Chita Rivera first earned fame on Broadway singing and dancing in the musical "West Side Story" in nineteen-fifty-seven. She also has starred in Broadway musicals like "Can-Can," "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman." She has won praise and major awards for her work in theater. Here Chita Rivera sings "America" from "West Side Story."

James Levine, Elizabeth Taylor, James Earl Jones, Paul Simon, and Chita Rivera are special performers. The Kennedy Center will honor them for sharing their gifts with people around the world.

This VOA Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on our VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.


"This Is America" in VOA Special English
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