N.C.-raised singer-songwriter James Taylor is among those who will receive the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors, the arts center announced Thursday. Also selected: actor Al Pacino, gospel and blues singer Mavis Staples, Argentine pianist Martha Argerich and rockers the Eagles.
“They are the very best of the artists of their genre,” said Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter, adding that each has shaped the American artistic landscape.
Taylor and the Eagles – Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh and the late Glenn Frey – are voices of their generations, she said. And “Martha (Argerich) gives herself completely to the power of the music... Al Pacino is one of those iconic artists you almost forget about because he so deeply embodies his characters. Mavis (Staples) is a pistol.”
“Oh my God, if I could have turned a flip I would have done it,” said Staples, 76, of her reaction to the invitation. “I’ve been to several (Honors ceremonies) but I never expected to be chosen. It’s the highest honor that Mavis has had to this point.”
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Taylor, 68, has been playing and recording music for 50 years, signing with Apple Records (of Beatles’ fame) in 1968 and selling some 100 million records since. Known for singles “Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain” and as the former husband of Carly Simon, Taylor has been honored with multiple Grammy Awards, a National Medal of Arts and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He sang at Obama’s second inauguration, and last year he released “Before This World,” his first new studio album in 13 years.
Surprise guests and A-list performers will celebrate the lifetime achievements of these four individual artists and the band at a live performance Dec. 4. A major fundraiser for the national arts center and living memorial to former President John F. Kennedy, the 39th annual Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast Dec. 27 on CBS.
The Kennedy Center Honors started in 1978 to celebrate artists who have made lasting contributions to the country. The primary criteria for their selection is artistic excellence.
Charlotte Ballet’s Patricia McBride, a George Balanchine muse and principal with the New York City Ballet for nearly 30 years, was part of the 2014 Kennedy class. In recent years, the roster has included popular musicians and movie figures, from Tom Hanks and George Lucas to Led Zeppelin and Sting. Classical musicians usually alternate with dancers, but Argerich’s appearance this year follows conductor Seiji Ozawa
The Eagles were selected last year (and were celebrated by country singer Miranda Lambert, who performed their signature ballad, “Desperado”) – but deferred when Frey had to be hospitalized. He died in January, at 67.
“We’re all missing Glenn and this great space he left in our lives,” said Jack Tempchin,who wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and co-wrote “Already Gone” and other Eagles hits with Frey.