Kennedy Center Honors

By Jerilyn WatsonThe John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate the work of five famous performing artists on Sunday, December Third. They will be honored for many years of excellence in the performing arts. I'm Shirley Griffith.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.

The bright lights of the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, DC will shine next Sunday on five famous performing artists. The Kennedy Center will honor singer and guitar player Chuck Berry, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and opera singer and musical director Placido Domingo. Actress Angela Lansbury and actor and director Clint Eastwood also will be honored. The awards recognize lifelong excellence in the arts.Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will welcome the winners at a dinner Saturday night at the State Department. President and Missus Clinton will invite them to the White House on Sunday. Later that day their artistic work will be celebrated at the Kennedy Center Opera House. This program will be broadcast on television later in December.

This is the first time in the history of the awards that the majority of winners were born in other countries. Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia. Angela Lansbury was born in London, England. And Placido Domingo was born in Madrid, Spain. Clint Eastwood and Chuck Berry were born in the United States.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov is the youngest of the Kennedy Center Honor winners this year. He is fifty-two years old. Many critics call him the finest male ballet dancer of our time. He began studying ballet as a child. By Nineteen-Seventy-Four, Mikhail Baryshnikov had earned international fame in ballet in the Soviet Union. But he was unhappy there. He asked for asylum in the United States.

In this country, he began dancing the major parts with the American Ballet Theatre. Later he returned to that company as artistic director and major dancer. He also danced with the New York City Ballet.

Mikhail Baryshnikov also has appeared in television and films. He was nominated for an Academy Award in Nineteen-Seventy-Seven for his part in "The Turning Point." Ten years ago, he helped form the White Oak Project, a modern dance group.

(( MUSIC BRIDGE))Placido Domingo is one of the world's top opera singers. And one of the world's busiest. He has sung more than one-hundred-fifteen parts in operas around the world. He appears in operas by Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo and many other composers.

In recent years he has also led opera orchestras in major cities. He also serves in supervising positions with the main opera companies in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, California. Placido Domingo is fifty-nine. Music became important to him early in life. His parents were musicians. Their work led the family to move to Mexico when Placido was eight years old. In Mexico City he studied voice, piano and orchestra-leading.Placido Domingo first sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in Nineteen-Sixty-Eight. Critics praised his performance. Before long he was singing in all the major opera houses of the world. He has recorded many popular songs as well as opera music. In the last ten years he has appeared in several concerts with two other top male singers. These performances are called "The Three Tenors." Thousands of people also have bought recordings of these concerts. Here Placido Domingo sings music by Verdi, "Ah, Si, Ben Mio" from the opera "Il Trovatore."

((CUT ONE: AH, SI, BEN MIO))Actress and singer Angela Lansbury has won awards for her work in films, the Broadway theater and television for more than fifty-five years. She is seventy-four years old. She may be best known today for performing in a television series called "Murder, She Wrote."She appears as a mystery writer who solves a murder in every show.

Angela Lansbury came to the United States in Nineteen-Forty. She was sent away from her home in London to escape German bombing during World War Two. Soon she became an actress in American films. Her movies include "National Velvet" and "Gaslight." At age twenty-two she played the part of a much older woman in "State of the Union."

Angela Lansbury has earned critical praise in several successful Broadway musical shows in New York. Among them were "Auntie Mame" and "Sweeney Todd." Here she sings music from the Disney animated film, "Beauty and the Beast."

((CUT TWO: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST))The Kennedy Center award for Chuck Berry honors his singing and guitar playing. It also honors the fact that the seventy-three-year-old musician helped create rock and roll music. He was one of a number of African-American musicians who introduced this new music to the world. Rock and roll showed influences of blues, religious and country music.

Chuck Berry is famous for walking like a duck while playing his guitar and singing. Some of his most popular recordings are "School Days", "Memphis", and "Johnny B. Goode." The first song he ever recorded was "Maybellene." He made the record in Nineteen-Fifty-Five. It sold one-million copies.

((CUT THREE: MAYBELLENE ))Clint Eastwood has worked in films for forty-seven years. He has made fifty-six movies. He is known for playing strong men of few words. The seventy-year-old actor started on the road to fame in the early Nineteen-Sixties. He played in the Western television series, "Rawhide." Later he acted in the Western films "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "A Fistful of Dollars."

Clint Eastwood also appeared as "Dirty Harry" in a series of movies by that name. They told about a tough police detective. In one famous movie, a criminal is about to shoot Harry. The detective tells the criminal, "Go ahead. Make my day." Naturally, Harry survives.

Clint Eastwood is a film director as well as an actor. His film, "Unforgiven," won him the Academy Award for best director of Nineteen-Ninety-Two. The Motion Picture Academy and the National Society of Film Critics called it the best movie of that year.

Clint Eastwood, Angela Lansbury, Chuck Berry, Placido Domingo and Mikhail Baryshnikov are all special performers. And they have shared their special gifts with people around the world.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Holly Capehart . I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.