Pop Music: Kennedy Center should honor Sly and Family Stone, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell
By Chris Richards,
The recipients of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors won’t be announced until later this summer or early fall — indeed, the deliberations for who will be named are still ongoing. With that in mind, our critics weigh in with their own recommendations for who they think are most deserving of this prestigious acknowledgment of artistic achievement in the performing arts.
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When Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend — the two surviving members of the Who — came to Washington in 2008, they weren’t just the first really loud rock-and-roll band to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. They were the first band, period.
But now the doors are open. And while it might get crowded, there’s no ignoring that the boomer generation often produced its pop music icons in configurations of four or more.
Sly and the Family Stone
There’s no band more deserving. Sly and the Family Stone’s multi-race, mixed-gender lineup epitomized the social idealism of 1960s America, and the group’s protest songs melted genres with a funky, euphoric electricity that has never been matched.
And while frontman Sly Stone, 68, was the creative furnace behind the group’s glory years, it was the Family Stone’s first incarnation that helped make its music resonate with so many: guitarist Freddie Stone, 64, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, 65, drummer Greg Errico, 62, saxophonist Jerry Martini, 67, bassist Larry Graham, 64, and keyboardist Rose Stone, 66, who joined a year into the band’s career.
Plus, they’d all look really great in those rainbow-ribboned medals. And Prince might show up to sing “Everyday People” in tribute.
Should the godfathers of heavy metal get a heavy medal? Absolutely. The surviving members of Led Zeppelin — guitarist Jimmy Page, 67, singer Robert Plant, 62, and bassist John Paul Jones, 65 — have left their fingerprints on nearly every piece of rock-and-roll rubble that came in their thundering wake.
And since we’re honoring a lifetime of achievement here, it’s important to note that the members who are still living — drummer John Bonham died in 1980 — are still achieving alongside their acolytes: Page recently came down from Mount Olympus to jam with Jack White and the Edge in the film “It Might Get Loud,” Plant has made some stunning folk music with Alison Krauss, and Jones is still bruising eardrums with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme in the generation-jumping supergroup Them Crooked Vultures.
Prince— a pop dynamo who should surely receive Kennedy Center Honors of his own, someday — is stingy when it comes to praising his heroes, but he’s always been a vocal devotee of Mitchell, 67, who currently stands as was one of the most influential singers of the 20th century.
The Canadian-born songwriter may not have played Woodstock, but she did write the best song about it (“Woodstock”) before settling into a legendary folk-rock scene in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon. There, Mitchell’s music would take on brilliant new shapes. Her run of albums during the 1970s — including her confessional “Blue,” her enduring “Court and Spark” and her secret masterstroke “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” — served as connective tissue between three of America’s greatest pop forms: folk, rock and jazz.