White House Honors Performers, Scholars

A new generation discovered bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley on the
A new generation discovered bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley on the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. He is among arts medal recipients. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2006

The legendary Hollywood dancer Cyd Charisse, seminal bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley, composer William Bolcom, Middle Eastern scholars Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis, and Washington biographer Meryl Secrest have been selected by the White House to receive the 2006 national medals of the arts and humanities.

President Bush yesterday announced the 20 recipients for the country's official highest awards in arts, arts scholarship and philanthropy.

In addition to Charisse and Stanley, the arts recipients are: photographer Roy R. DeCarava; conductor Erich Kunzel; the Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans; literary translator Gregory Rabassa; and industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost. Wilhelmina C. Holladay, the founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, will be cited for her arts patronage. The Interlochen Center for the Arts, an internationally known training ground, will receive a citation for promoting arts education. Its alumni include Lorin Maazel, Jessye Norman, Norah Jones and Felicity Huffman.

Named for the humanities medals were: Nobel economist James Buchanan, a professor at George Mason University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; historian Nickolas Davatzes, the founder of the History Channel; poet and classics translator Robert Fagles; classicist Mary Lefkowitz; religion historian Mark Noll; and historian Kevin Starr, the state librarian emeritus of California, who has written more than a million words about the state.

The humanities institutional award is going to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, a public policy center at Stanford University.

The awards are to be presented this morning in a private ceremony at the White House.

Charisse gained fame for her dance sequences with Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain," "Brigadoon" and "It's Always Fair Weather," and with Fred Astaire in "The Band Wagon."

Bolcom has written three operas, "McTeague," "A View From the Bridge" and "A Wedding," and two film scores. He won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for "New Etudes for Piano." The recording of his "Songs of Innocence and of Experience," based on William Blake's work, won four Grammy Awards in 2005.

Stanley was known to a post-World War II generation through his broadcasts from Bristol, Va. In recent years, he won over new audiences with his singing and three-finger banjo-playing for the soundtrack of the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

In a statement yesterday, Stanley touched on his songwriting approach. "It just hits you, comes on your mind," he said. "I've got up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, wrote a song or two, maybe wrote three before I went back to bed. If I didn't get up and write them down, I wouldn't have remembered them the next day."

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