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Kennedy Center Announces 2004 Honorees

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2004; 4:05 PM

The Kennedy Center is slanting its 2004 honorees list this year toward wide, and sometimes, wild expressions of music.

The center announced today that it is honoring pop icon Elton John -- that outrageous "Bennie and the Jets" and "Philadelphia Freedom" guy. They also selected Dame Joan Sutherland, one of the great post World War II sopranos who proved bel canto was singable -- and did it beautifully -- and whose "Lucia di Lammermoor" is a textbook for aspiring singers. And they picked composer John Williams, whose film scores have earned him 28 Academy Award nominations. His scores for "Jaws," "Schindler's List," "E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial" "Star Wars" and his adaptation of "Fiddler on the Roof" brought him Oscars.

Pop icon Elton John has been selected as one of this year's Kennedy Center honorees. (Lo Sai Hung - AP)

Also selected for the December ceremonies were actors and producers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee --who are married to each other -- and actor and director Warren Beatty.

All of the honorees have done groundbreaking work in their artistic fields. The choices, said center officials, are based on the honorees' impact on American audiences, even if the individual was born outside the United States. Sutherland was born in Australia; John in England.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, the center's chairman, spoke of the range of the honorees' contributions.

"They are a film artist whose talents are astonishingly diverse; a greatly revered couple of stage and screen; a pop music icon who also composes stunning musical film and theater scores; an operatic superstar of unsurpassed artistic achievement; and one of the most influential American composers of the past four decades," said Schwarzman.

Among her achievements Dee was the first black woman to take on major roles, such as Kate and Cordelia, at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn. She starred in the original Broadway staging of "A Raisin in the Sun" and later was in the film adaptation of the landmark work. Davis wrote and starred in another breakaway African American play, "Purlie Victorious" and later wrote and directed one of the most successful black films of the late 1960s, "Cotton Comes to Harlem."

From the first steps in his career Beatty was recognized as a special talent. In 1962, the year after his film debut in the steamy "Splendor in the Grass," he was given The Most Promising Newcomer Award by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. With the release of "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967 he carved out a place as an actor and producer. "Bonnie and Clyde" broke the mold by romanticizing the crooks and doing it with style and witty dialogue.

Opera audiences kept Sutherland working around the world from 1947 to her retirement in 1990. In 1947 she made her debut at Covent Garden in "The Magic Flute" and within seven years the Italian opera fans had christened her "La Stupenda."

In his career John has sold 200 million records and 60 million albums and his version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" stands as the most successful cover of a Beatles song ever made. John Lennon played guitar on the track. John has also ventured successfully onto Broadway and the movies. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from "The Lion King" film earned him his first Grammy. "Candle in the Wind," his tribute to Princess Diana after her death, was the second biggest selling single in history.

The honors are given at an invitation-only dinner at the State Department on Dec. 4, followed the next day by a White House reception and an all-star salute at the Kennedy Center.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company