Sept 16, 2016: Ex Eagles Members Denied Kennedy Center Honors

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Schmit, Frey, Henley and Walsh

Schmit, Frey, Henley and Walsh

On June 23, 2016, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Eagles‘ selection as one of five Honorees to receive the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors at its annual event later that year. The members identified were limited to Don Henley, Glenn Frey (posthumously), Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. This caused a mini-revolt of loyal fans who petitioned the organizers via Change.org to allow former Eagles Don Felder, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon to be included.

Early Eagles (L-R): Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey (Photo: Henry Diltz; used with permission)

On Sept. 16, it was revealed that the petition was denied. In a statement shared to petition members that day by its author, Brandon Butler, the Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter wrote: “The Kennedy Center consulted with the Eagles and through that discussion, it was determined that the four band members–Don Henley, the late Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, and Joe Walsh–who ‘carried the torch’ will be awarded the Honors.”

Her statement went on to note: “This determination does not discredit the contributions of former band members.”

Watch an edited clip from the group’s 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction where, as Frey notes: “You can’t play music with people for very long if you don’t genuinely like them. And I guarantee you that over the nine years that the Eagles were together in the ’70s, over the three years that were together during our reunion, the best of times ranked over the 95 percentile. The worst of times ranked in the very small percentile that obviously everybody but the seven of us have dwelt on for a long, long time. Get over it!”

In his email to the “10,000 plus” fellow petitioners, Butler wrote: “I have asked Mrs. Rutter to possibly consider inviting them because if they do not discredit the contributions these individuals have made, the least they can do is invite them so they can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment watching the tributes from their fellow artists.”

Besides Eagles, the recipients honored at the 39th annual national celebration of the arts are: singer-songwriter James Taylor, actor Al Pacino, gospel and blues singer Mavis Staples, and Argentine pianist Martha Argerich.

It was a bittersweet event when Eagles received the Honors. The classic rock band were originally chosen for the prestigious award one year earlier but decided to delay the 2015 honor when Frey took ill. No one would’ve known at the time that Frey’s medical issues would have resulted in the rock star’s death, on January 18, 2016, due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia.

Related: Eagles postpone 2015 Kennedy Center Honors

From the official June 23 announcement of their 2016 selection: “The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates the spectacular talents of artists whose brilliance has left a lasting impact on our society,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “These Honorees represent what is possible when creativity is not just cultivated, but unleashed. The Eagles’s ambitiously themed albums epically merged the American West and rock n’ roll, paving the way for unconventional music makers and artists to come; Al Pacino has embodied some of the most powerful characters of our time on both the stage and silver screen; Mavis Staples’s unmatched gospel and rhythm and blues masterpieces span 60 years and even served as a musical backdrop to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for Civil Rights; and James Taylor’s warm baritone and poetic lyrics embody the art of songwriting, making him one of the defining musical figures of our time and his music the soundtrack of our country.”

On December 4, in a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, the 2016 Honorees were saluted by fellow performers from New York, Hollywood, and the arts capitals of the world. Seated with the President of the United States and Mrs. Obama, the Honorees will accept the recognition and gratitude of their peers through performances and tributes.

Among the Center’s 200 recipients since they were started in 1978 are such rock and pop music legends as Led Zeppelin, Sting, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, and many more.

Related: Watch Ann Wilson honor Led Zeppelin on “Stairway to Heaven”

For years, it was strictly a highbrow affair with Honorees like Fred Astaire, Leonard Bernstein, and so on. It wasn’t until 1994 when a more contemporary music icon, Aretha Franklin, was first selected. Since then, the committee has chosen performers from the classic rock era virtually every year. U2 and Gladys Knight are among the artists being honored in 2022.

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8 Comments so far

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  1. Bec
    #1 Bec 8 June, 2020, 23:31

    By not including Leadon, Felder and Meisner in the Honors for the Eagles completely discredits the integrity of the Honors. I have lost respect for this organization by first conversing with the likes of Henley and Frey on this matter and allowing them to make this determination. Maybe the better way to decide this was to ask the fans.

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  2. Da Mick
    #2 Da Mick 17 September, 2021, 00:15

    Quite obviously the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts doesn’t know much about the Eagles, in that they are apparently oblivious to how the contributions made by those they’ve chosen to not honor literally
    helped create the fame that the band enjoys to the present day. The majority of those members who are currently in the band, and who will be honored — aside from Henley, are, essentially, being honored for the efforts of those not to be recognized. The fact that they would be willing to downplay the contributions of others doesn’t surprise me about Henley and Frey, but it does surprise and sadden me about the Kennedy Center.

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  3. Boxtrot65
    #3 Boxtrot65 17 September, 2021, 03:17

    Having listened to this band since inception, and being familiar enough with their history….including multiple viewings of the great doco History of the Eagles, Part 1….there are few things more clear than the partings, when they came, were acrimonious. For sure, Felders contributions are substantial, but I believe it’s plain enough to see that he had to go, and that his parting was not a moment too soon. Leadon and Miesner not too dissimilar in that creatively, there were differences that could not be reconcilable.
    The continuation with the addition of Timothy B Schmitt, and with Joe Walsh an ongoing member, as such, became much more of a backbone Eagles….I get both sides of the argument, but it’s abundantly clear there was no happily ever after with the now core band and the departed members at all. It was announced as much more than a few times, and also, it’s always been about Frey and Henley – the award, pffft….its an award, and a questionable one as mentioned…..no one would have turned up had it been obligatory to include the others. I am equally sure, beyond the award, they have their recognition in all other ways, and will always have that deeper connection to the band regardless for those who recognise the accomplishments, overall, of the Eagles.
    It was never going to end in any other way.

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    • Nancy
      Nancy 17 September, 2021, 12:55

      This is the 1st comment I have seen on this subject, to not go one way… I am a big fan but can see the conflict in this band. Just like a marriage , something wears away at the core. Personalities, not music, tore this band apart unfortunately.

      Reply this comment
  4. DAVE
    #4 DAVE 22 September, 2021, 00:21

    Why are so people unfairly vilifying Glenn Frey and Don Henley? If anyone had bothered to read the KCH statement, they made it clear that their decision was not intended to discredit the contributions of Meisner, Leadon or Felder; besides, the video presentation showed clips and photos of the original four members (Frey, Henley, Meisner, Leadon).

    Neither Meisner nor Leadon publicly commented on the outcome of the KCH’s decision, but Meisner did say that he was hoping to travel to the ceremony to watch it.

    I don’t care what people think about Felder, but it was completely futile for him to start this petition to get him, Meisner and Leadon honoured and having them present at the ceremony would’ve been very disrespectful to the Frey family and the surviving Eagles after Glenn Frey had died, since he had unfairly maligned him in his book and post-2001 interviews, made fun of his illnesses on Twitter before deleting the posts, according to what was said on Eagles Online Forum and never acknowledged his talents as a singer or musician. He released a superficially nice statement after Frey died, only to throw a hissy fit over not being invited to the Grammys Tribute,

    I think Mr. Felder is a disgrace by making it all about him and if he had turned up unannounced and uninvited to the KCH, I can just imagine Cindy Frey having him escorted out by security.

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  5. DAVE
    #5 DAVE 22 September, 2021, 20:30

    I do apologize for some of the typos in my previous post.
    What I meant to say is that having Don Felder present at the KCH ceremony would’ve been very disrespectful to Glenn Frey’s widow and children, since as I mentioned earlier, he had unfairly vilified and badmouthed their beloved Glenn. I wouldn’t blame Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit or Joe Walsh for not wanting Felder there and they understandably want nothing to do with him.
    I don’t believe that having Randy Meisner or Bernie Leadon in the audience would’ve been objectionable to the other members, since neither man sued them, let alone published books or trashed Don Henley or Glenn to no end in interviews, but having Felder present would have been controversial and Cindy Frey obviously would not have felt comfortable in the presence of a man who had maligned her late husband.
    Whether people want to admit it or not, Felder and Glenn did not end on good terms and they never had the chance to reconcile before Glenn died. It’s a sad reality that Felder will have to live with for the rest of his life.

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  6. Grbear98
    #6 Grbear98 16 September, 2022, 16:52

    It’s sad but it all comes down to Don Felder. Because Don Henley knew if he had Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner he would also have to have Don Felder on stage. People can think that it’s out of anger that certain people are not invited but it’s really out of embarrassment and shame that they feel disguised as anger about how they treated another person. And it’s so much easier to act like you’re mad then it is to own up to the embarrassment and shame. Because they did Don Fielder dirty he had a contract that made him an equal member of The Eagles and they had Irving Azoff make it null and void and relegated him to being a paid musician that had a contract from album to album and tour the tour that had to be renewed by Don Henley and Glenn Frey at the end of both. Which meant he was no longer being paid like an eagle he was being paid like a session musician and they didn’t have the legal authority to do that but nonetheless it didn’t stop them. Now right is right and wrong is wrong and fair is fair. And Don Henley and Glenn Frey didn’t want to play fair. And it’s not about the book Heaven and Hell My Life in the Eagles because maybe 5% of it was stuff that we didn’t know about the Eagles but the rest of it we already did and was common knowledge so that theory is out the window. That reaction is because of the way they treated somebody.

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  7. Bob
    #7 Bob 17 September, 2022, 11:29

    Fleetwood Mac did not seem to have any problems inviting people like the late Peter Green to their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Same with Journey and Steve Perry/Gregg Rolle and Aynsley Dunbar. It comes down to the personalities of the leaders of the group.

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