Last night CBS aired the annual Kennedy Center Honors, which were taped earlier this month. I don't watch the Honors every year, but I try to catch at least part of it each time out. It's vitally important that we recognize our artistic heritage and the luminaries who have shaped that heritage, which is what the Honors are all about. I do wish that there was an equivalent to the Honors for the non-performing arts, like writing and poetry, painting, and architecture; but to see classical musicians like James Levine honored alongside popular songwriters like Paul Simon and actors like James Earl Jones is always a thrill. (I must confess some ignorance, here: during the Paul Simon segment, almost no mention was made whatsoever of Art Garfunkel. Is Garfunkel still alive, and if so, was his parting with Simon that acrimonious?)
Since the conclusion of last night's telecast, I've been wondering what figures in the performing arts right now are likely to become Kennedy Center Honorees in the future. Below are some guesses of mine; these are all people whose body of work as it exists now seems to me worthy of the Kennedy Center. I'm not making any conjectures as to artists who may produce a body of work worthy of such, even though there are some who are fairly new to the scene who I do think are more likely than not to get there. (I'm thinking of actors like Kevin Spacey and Leonardo DiCaprio, whose track records in the decade or so they've been on the forefront clearly indicate Kennedy Center potential.) I'm restricting my speculations here to music and screen, since I know very little about the Broadway world. For instance, I had never heard of one of this year's honorees, Broadway dancer Chita Rivera, until I watched the actual telecast. I'm also not sure if the Kennedy Center Honors are meant for American citizens only. Persons like Placido Domingo, Sir Georg Solti and Julie Andrews have been honored in the past; I don't know if those are persons who have become citizens or if the Kennedy Center honors artists of any original nationality who have made substantial contributions to American culture.
(A year-by-year listing of all the Kennedy Center Honorees can be found here, by the way.)
:: FILM: Directors, Producers, and Screenwriters.
Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, George Lucas, Stanley Donen, Ron Howard, Lawrence Kasdan, William Goldman, David Mamet, Rob Reiner, Robert Zemeckis.
:: FILM: Actors and Actresses.
Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, Tom Hanks, John Cleese, Robert Redford, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Robert DeNiro.
:: MUSIC: Classical and Jazz.
John Williams, Leonard Slatkin, Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass, John Corigliano, Anne Sophie-Mutter, Kathleen Battle, Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea. (I'd personally include Jerry Goldsmith along with John Williams, in terms of his greatness and longevity as a film composer, but I'm not sure he has the cultural visibility that John Williams has.)
:: MUSIC: Popular.
Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Bruce Springsteen. (I confess that I'm not sure to what degree a "stodginess" factor would work against a lot of rock musicians. Would the Kennedy Center single out, say, Edward Van Halen?)
:: OTHERS: Television, Comedy, Et Cetera.
David Letterman, George Carlin (although, again subject to stodginess), Jerry Seinfeld, Ken Burns, Dick Clark, Stephen Bochco.
OK, the comments section awaits: who have I missed? Keep in mind that it's "body of work over time" that applies here.
[EDIT: A link that was not working, is now working. The persons responsible for that link not working, have been sacked. The persons responsible for sacking those who have been sacked, have been sacked. And so on....]