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Paul McCartney and Oprah Winfrey to receive Kennedy Center Honors

Merle Haggard, Bill T. Jones and Jerry Herman also honored.

September 08, 2010|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
  • Three of the honorees, from left: Merle Haggard, Oprah Winfrey and Paul McCartney.
Three of the honorees, from left: Merle Haggard, Oprah Winfrey and Paul… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Paul McCartney may be in the running for his own parking space in the White House lot: He's being honored yet again in the nation's capital, along with TV host Oprah Winfrey, country music stalwart Merle Haggard, choreographer Bill T. Jones and veteran Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, as a recipient of this year's Kennedy Center Honors.

In June, McCartney performed for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when he received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. He'll return to Washington, D.C., in December to accept the honor from the center. "President Kennedy was such an icon for us in the '60s and his presidency was so inspiring for so many people that it is a great pleasure for this kid from Liverpool to receive this honor," the ex-Beatle wrote Tuesday in a post on his website.

For McCartney, it's one that has taken eight years for him to secure. He was nominated in 2002 but declined the award because of a family obligation on the same weekend he would have been feted in Washington, D.C. This time the 68-year-old singer, songwriter and former mop top plans to be in attendance.

Haggard, widely considered one of country music's greatest singers and songwriters, said from his home in Northern California that he was humbled by the company he's surrounded by on the honoree list: "Boy … the TV mogul and the greatest writer in the world."

His selection for the award "blew me backwards," Haggard, 73, said. "I didn't know anybody cared." Haggard has performed at the White House for presidents of both major parties. "I'm what you'd call a middle-of-the-road conservative. I don't attach myself to either party. I stay neutral and try to write about it."

Jones has been an active, and often provocative, member of the contemporary dance world for decades, addressing AIDS and gay rights in his company's productions. He also recently directed and choreographed "Fela!," the Tony-winning musical based on the life of Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

"The dance world I came out of — the postmodern world — for a long time was considered a very marginalized footnote to history," Jones, 58, said Tuesday from Tempe, Ariz. "To be honored in this way is a validation for a whole strain of investigation that many people have dedicated their lives to. I'm just delighted."

Herman, the 79-year-old creator of "Hello, Dolly!" "Mame" and "La Cage Aux Folles" among his hit theatrical works, also gushed over the news that he'll get the award bestowed on performing artists for their contributions to American culture.

"What's really exciting about it for me," Herman said from his home in Los Angeles, "it's the one award that comes from my country. I've gotten so many beautiful theatrical awards … but there is no other honor like the Kennedy Center honor. It's America. It's my land that I love, as Irving Berlin said."

Winfrey, 56, told the Associated Press, "I love surprising people; I don't like being surprised. Releasing any kind of control over a show and allowing myself to sit there and be surprised is not going to be easy," she said, "but I'm willing to do that."

The five recipients will be saluted on Dec. 5 in a ceremony that will be taped for a PBS TV special slated to air Dec. 28.

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