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5 honored at Kennedy Center

Spielberg and a quartet of musical legends are recognized for their lifetime contributions to the arts.

December 04, 2006|Moises Mendoza | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Hollywood stars and Washington politicians were entertained by star-studded performances Sunday night as they gathered to recognize five performing-arts legends during the annual Kennedy Center Honors.

The performances at the capital's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts capped the annual weekend when high-powered politicians and A-list celebrities come together to celebrate artistic achievement. The Kennedy Center Honors, now in their 29th year, are awarded for lifetime contributions to the arts. Honorees in recent years included Tina Turner, Warren Beatty and Luciano Pavarotti.

This year's honorees were composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, conductor Zubin Mehta, singer/songwriters Dolly Parton and William "Smokey" Robinson, and film director Steven Spielberg. The gala will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 26.

Motown legends the Temptations honored Robinson with dancing and singing. As they crooned hits including "My Girl" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do," President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush bobbed to the music, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sang along.

Lloyd Webber was honored by a medley of songs from musicals he created, and Mehta with a surprise appearance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Jessica Simpson made an appearance singing "9 to 5" in tribute to Parton, and actor Tom Hanks brought onstage several decorated soldiers to thank Spielberg.

"All of us are here this evening to thank you for putting our story on film for future generations to remember," said Harold Baumgarten, who was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service in World War II. "And thank you, Steven, for telling it just the way it happened."

One of Hollywood's most acclaimed directors, Spielberg, 59, created the summer blockbuster with his second film, "Jaws," in 1975. Since then he has explored science fiction with "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "ET: The Extraterrestrial," brought back the old-fashioned adventure story with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and its sequels, and examined human flaws and triumphs in "Schindler's List," which won the Oscar for best picture, "The Color Purple" and "Saving Private Ryan." (Spielberg has won two Oscars for best director).

Lloyd Webber, 58, helped revolutionize musical theater with his operatic yet accessible productions, including "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (produced when he was 19), "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Evita." In January, his "Phantom of the Opera" became the longest-running musical in Broadway history, overtaking another of his productions, "Cats." The winner of seven Tony awards, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 and named an honorary life peer five years later.

A resident of Los Angeles, Mehta, 70, has conducted several of the world's most esteemed classical orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978. From there, he headed east and led the New York Philharmonic for 13 years. Most recently the Bombay-born musician -- named music director for life of the Israel Philharmonic in 1981 -- has served as music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

After growing up poor in the Tennessee mountains, Parton, 60, achieved fame as a country songwriter and singer with her distinctive, down-home voice and self-deprecating humor. The winner of 10 Country Music Assn. awards and seven Grammys has also appeared in several movies, including "Nine to Five" (for which she wrote the Oscar-nominated title song) and "Steel Magnolias." Dollywood, the theme park she created in the Smoky Mountains, is one of Tennessee's top tourist attractions.

Robinson, 66, now lives in Los Angeles but made his name in Detroit, where he was one of Motown Records' first superstars with his R&B group, the Miracles -- "Shop Around," "Going to a Go-Go," "Ooo Baby Baby" and "Tears of a Clown." He also wrote songs for other Motown performers, notably "My Guy" for Mary Wells and "The Way You Do the Things You Do" for the Temptations. Called "America's greatest living poet" by Bob Dylan, Robinson was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

"America thanks you. We thank you for showing your creative gifts and enriching the cultural life of our country," Bush told the honorees at a reception before the main event Sunday.

The awards themselves were presented Saturday at a dinner at the State Department, where Rice, herself a pianist, paid tribute to the honorees, saying that fine arts flourish best in a democracy.

"What makes America great is not the idea of power but the power of ideas," Rice said.

moises.mendoza@latimes.com

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