Kennedy Center Honors slims down in response to pandemic


WASHINGTON — This year’s Kennedy Center Honors will be a slimmed-down affair as the nation emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

The 43rd class of honorees includes country music legend Garth Brooks, dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, actor Dick Van Dyke, singer-songwriter Joan Baez and violinist Midori. They were being honored Friday night at a medallion ceremony that had been delayed from December 2020.

Instead of the usual packed several-hour black-tie event, followed by dinner, Friday’s festivities will run just 90 minutes with a limited audience. The musical performances and tributes — traditionally the centerpiece of the event — are split into two other nights; one took place Thursday and the second is scheduled for Saturday.

All the events will be edited into a television special, which will be broadcast on CBS on June 6.

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter, speaking to The Associated Press in January when the plan was announced, said her staff had planned a host of mini-events and tributes that used the entire Kennedy Center campus.

“We’re clearly not going to have 2,000 people in an enclosed space for three hours,” she said. “But I think we’ve come up with some really great ideas.”

For this year’s honorees, it’s a chance to be part of something historically unique, and some hoped it would prove therapeutic to participants and viewers.

“I think it will feel like a return to something — not total normality, but something,” Allen told the AP in January. “It’s normally such a festive event, and I’m sure that will come across.”

The honorees met with President Joe Biden on Thursday, marking a return to tradition after former President Donald Trump avoided the celebration during his tenure. Trump’s presence in the White House hung over the annual events from the start, with several 2017 honorees threatening to boycott if he attended.

Trump chose to stay away for the entirety of his time in office, to the quiet relief of administrators who otherwise may have faced an uprising from the artists.

The performing arts center is planning a full-scale reopening in September with events slowly ramping up until then. The 44th Kennedy Center Honors program should take place, back on its usual schedule, in December.

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