The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts this year honors singer Barbara Cook, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins, and actress Meryl Streep as their 2011 honorees. The special broadcast of the gala will air on December 27 on CBS. BroadwayWorld is excited to present special video coverage of Broadway's own Barbara Cook and more... Here is what President Obama had to say.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good evening, everybody. Welcome to the White House. What a spectacular looking crowd here. (Laughter.) I want to start by thanking David Rubenstein, Michael Kaiser, and the Kennedy Center Trustees, and everyone who has made the Kennedy Center such a wonderful place for so many people for so many years. I also want to acknowledge my good friend, Caroline Kennedy, for continuing her family's legacy of supporting the arts. And finally, I want to thank the creator of the Kennedy Center Honors and the Co-Chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, George Stevens. (Applause.) George and his son, Michael, are still bringing this show to life after 34 years, and we are grateful to both of them. So -- (applause.)
Tonight, we honor five giants from the world of the arts -- not just for a single role or a certain performance, but for a lifetime of greatness. And just to be clear, this doesn't mean that they're over the hill. (Laughter.) It just means they've come a long way.
Now, at first glance the men and women on this stage could not be more different. They come from different generations, different walks of life. They have different talents, and they've traveled different paths. And yet they belong here together. Because each of tonight's honorees has felt the need to express themselves and share that expression with the world.
It's a feeling that all of us have at some point in our lives. That's why we sing, even if it's just in the shower. (Laughter.) It's why we act, even if we never get past the school auditorium. That's why we dance, even if, as Michelle says, I look silly doing it. (Laughter.) It's one of the downsides of being President: Your dance moves end up on YouTube. (Laughter.)
But tonight's honorees take it a step further. By expressing themselves, they help us learn something about ourselves. They make us laugh. They move us to tears. They bring us together, and they push the boundaries of what we think is possible. And each of them has been blessed with an extraordinary gift. Tonight, we thank them for sharing that gift with us.
Barbara Cook has been said to have the most magnificent voice in popular music. But she was born into a family that didn't know the first thing about singing. Growing up, while the other kids in her neighborhood were out playing hide and seek, Barbara would be inside listening to opera on the radio. By the time she was 23, Barbara was starring in her first Broadway show, and she went on to win a Tony for her performance as the original "Marian the Librarian" in "The Music Man."
But success didn't come without pain, and she faced more than her share of challenges before a show-stopping concert at Carnegie Hall in 1975 catapulted her back into the spotlight. Barbara's greatest strength has always been her ability to put her own feelings and experiences into her songs. As she says, "If I sing about emotion, and you say, yes, I've felt that, too, then it brings us together, even if it's just for a little while."
These days, Barbara has been through enough to sing just about anything. So now she teaches up-and-coming singers to do the same. The lesson always starts with "Be yourself," a piece of advice that she has always taken to heart. Maybe that's what has kept her so young. And Barbara says that some days she feels like she is 30, and tonight you look like you're 30. (Laughter.) Some days she feels like she's 12, although her knee apparently does not agree. (Laughter.)
All we know is that we've never heard a voice like hers, so tonight we Barbara -- honor Barbara Cook. (Applause.)
Neil Diamond's songwriting career began like so many others -- he was trying to impress a girl. (Laughter.) The difference was that it worked and he went on to marry the girl. As Neil says, "I should have realized then the potential power of songs and been a little more wary." (Laughter.)