Kennedy Center Honors

This is Steve Ember. And this is Faith Lapidus. Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.

This week, we tell about the performers who were honored Sunday at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is one of America’s cultural headquarters. This is the twenty-sixth year it has honored performing artists for their lifetime of work.

Those chosen this year for the Kennedy Center Honors include singers James Brown and Loretta Lynn, and violinist Itzhak Perlman. The other honorees are actress and comedian Carol Burnett and director and producer Mike Nichols.

James Brown is often called the “Godfather of Soul.” The Kennedy Center calls him "arguably the most influential African-American musician in popular music in the past half-century." It says he led two major musical revolutions and has added to a third. He helped develop rhythm and blues music into soul music. Then he turned soul into another form, funk. Now, many rap and hip-hop performers borrow from his recordings.

As a child in the American South, James Brown sang, danced and played instruments on the street to help support his family. Later he learned about the religious music known as gospel. He joined a gospel group, then changed its style to rhythm and blues as rock and roll music became popular on radio. In nineteen-fifty-six the group had its first hit song: “Please, Please, Please.”

Over the years, James Brown has recorded many top songs. They include “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag” and “Living in America.” He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the winner of a special Grammy Award.

Now on to the Kennedy Center honoree who is known to millions of people by this song.

Loretta Lynn is often called the "Coal Miner’s Daughter.” That is the name of her most famous song. And true to her song, Loretta Lynn was the daughter of a coal miner, the second of eight children in her family.

She married at the age of thirteen and became a mother at fourteen. Her husband recognized her gift for singing and bought her a guitar. She taught herself to play. She and her husband mailed her first recording to radio stations. “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” became popular across the nation.

Many other hits followed. They included “Success” and “Woman of the World.” Loretta Lynn wrote a book about her life. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” became a best seller. A film version won an Academy Award.

Loretta Lynn is the first woman ever named “Entertainer of the Year” by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.

Now, from country music we turn to the world of classical music.

Many critics consider Itzhak Perlman the greatest concert violinist in the world. He has won fifteen Grammy awards for his recordings. He has also won four Emmys for his musical work on television.

Itzhak Perlman was born in Israel. At the age of four, he developed polio. He uses a wheelchair or walks with the aid of crutches. But none of this stopped him from playing the violin. He spent his early years studying music in Tel Aviv.

At thirteen, Itzhak Perlman came to the United States. He soon appeared on television. He attended the Juilliard School in New York and won a major performance prize in nineteen-sixty-four. His international fame had begun. Itzhak Perlman has received both a Medal of Liberty and a National Medal of Arts in the United States.

Here he performs Brahms’ "Violin Sonata Number Three in D Minor."

Now on to classic comedy, with another Kennedy Center honoree.

Many people consider Carol Burnett one of the funniest entertainers alive. Over the years, she has performed in clubs, films, theater and television. Her work has included singing, dancing and playing serious parts. But she is best known for her comedy. “The Carol Burnett Show” appeared for eleven seasons on television.

Carol Burnett grew up in Hollywood. At the University of California at Los Angeles, she appeared in theatrical productions -- and found her life’s work. She left college to become an actress in New York.

In nineteen-fifty-nine, Carol Burnett became a star of the Broadway theater in the musical production, “Once Upon a Mattress.” That same year, she began to appear on "The Garry Moore Show" on television.

Carol Burnett won her first Emmy in nineteen-sixty-two for her work on that show. Five years later she launched her own television program. “The Carol Burnett Show” lasted until the late nineteen-seventies. Since then, she has appeared in many other television shows and on Broadway.

Listen now as Carol Burnett sings about a theater worker who wants to become a movie star.

The final Kennedy Center honoree this year is Mike Nichols. He has performed, written, directed and produced during his many years in show business. His work on Broadway has earned him seven Tony awards. And he has won an Academy Award for his work in film.

As a child, Mike Nichols and his family fled to America from Germany. His family was Jewish, and Adolf Hitler was coming to power.

Later Mike Nichols attended the University of Chicago. He helped form a comedy group at a theater in Chicago called The Second City. Members of this group became famous for making people laugh.

Soon Mike Nichols left Chicago with another member of the group, Elaine May. They began to perform comedy together in New York. By nineteen-fifty-seven, Mike Nichols and Elaine May were becoming very popular on radio and television. They opened their own Broadway show in nineteen-sixty. But a year later they stopped performing together.

Mike Nichols went on to receive Tony awards for his work on plays including “The Odd Couple” and “The Real Thing.” His major films include “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “The Graduate” and “Catch Twenty-Two.”

More recently, he directed the film “The Bird Cage.” Elaine May wrote the screenplay. Some movie critics said it was one of the funniest films of the nineteen-nineties.

Mike Nichols, Carol Burnett, Itzhak Perlman, Loretta Lynn and James Brown are this year's winners of the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.