Joni Mitchell, Berry Gordy Lead 2021 Kennedy Center Honorees

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Joni Mitchell in an uncredited 2021 photo via her Facebook page

Joni Mitchell and Motown founder Berry Gordy are among the five Honorees selected to receive Kennedy Center Honors in 2021. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced their selection on July 21, along with Saturday Night Live creator and producer Lorne Michaels, Bette Midler, and operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz. The five Honorees will receive the 44th Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements at the annual national celebration of the arts in Washington, D.C. on December 5.

“The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates luminaries whose art and creativity have enriched us beyond measure,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “With his distinguished, deeply resonant voice and storied operatic career, Justino Díaz, stood on the stages of the world’s great opera houses and today stands as one of the greatest bass-baritones of our time; visionary music producer and songwriter Berry Gordy brought the quintessential soulfulness of Detroit into every home in America, elevating the Motown sound to become a national treasure; Lorne Michaels created the most enduring ‘must-see television’ with Saturday Night Live, a show that is both mirror and muse for life in America; an artistic tour de force and America’s Divine Miss M, Bette Midler has enjoyed an unrivaled and prolific career, entertaining millions with her wondrous voice and trademark comedic wit; and songstress Joni Mitchell, blends raw, deeply personal lyrics with her stunningly ethereal voice in 19 albums, becoming one of the most influential singer-songwriters and cultural figures in 20th-century popular music.”

Throughout its history, the annual Honors Gala has become a highlight of the Washington cultural calendar. On December 5, in a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, the 44th class of Kennedy Center Honorees will be saluted by today’s leading performers from New York, Hollywood, and the arts capitals of the world. Seated once again in the Box Tier of the iconic Kennedy Center Opera House, the Honorees will accept the recognition and gratitude of their peers through performances and tributes.

The selection of those making the induction speeches and performing the Honorees’ songs is also considered a major coup. David Crosby, who produced Mitchell’s 1968 debut, had this to say: “She deserves it… and I’m pretty sure I won’t be asked to sing for her.”

The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Television Network at a later date for the 44th consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

In the press announcement, Mitchell said, “I wish my mother and father were alive to see this. It’s a long way from Saskatoon.”

Berry Gordy Jr. in 1964

“Growing up in Detroit, I was not only Black but the ‘black sheep’ of my family,” said Gordy. “I was a failure at everything I did until I was 29 years old. Throughout the years I’ve been blessed with many wonderful memories, but this—the Kennedy Center Honors—is one that will be forever in my heart.”

Michaels said, “The Kennedy Center’s commitment to the performing arts has always been an important force in American culture. Being acknowledged here and included in this company is an honor in the truest sense. I am deeply grateful.”

“I am stunned and grateful beyond words,” said the Divine Miss M. “For many years I have watched this broadcast celebrating the best talent in the performing arts that America has to offer, and I truly never imagined that I would find myself among these swans.”

The Kennedy Center Honors recipients are recognized for their contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television—and are confirmed by the Executive Committee of the Center’s Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.

Past recipients include Linda Ronstadt, Led Zeppelin, Dick Van Dyke, Eagles, Al Pacino, James Taylor, George Lucas, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Dolly Parton, Robert Redford, and dozens more.

Related: The members of Led Zeppelin were moved to tears at their 2012 Honors

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  1. Skydog
    #1 Skydog 23 July, 2021, 12:54

    Bette Midler ???? That’s bottom fishing. I realize she has received accolades on Broadway, TV and in the movies but do not think it rises to being bestowed this type of honor. Perhaps they are rewarding her for constantly attacking the Trump administration along with other Conservatives.

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    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky 23 July, 2021, 14:54

      Skydog… Bette Midler has 3 Grammy Awards (including one for Record of the Year), 2 Tony Awards (including Best Actress in a Musical), 3 Emmy Awards and 2 Academy Award nominations (both for Best Actress). But whatever…

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