Monday, January 2, 2012

National Treasures

For the last several years, I have waited religiously for the broadcast of the annual Kennedy Center Honors awards ceremony. It is the best two hours of television I know of.

The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., honors five members of the artistic community—music, comedy, dance, theatre, film—in a gala ceremony that celebrates their achievements. Even if I am not already familiar with, or a fan of, each nominee's work, the 20 minutes devoted to each is an incredible, and always moving, introduction to their work. They are honored with a short movie retrospective of their work, then by performances by their peers that illustrate their achievements. It's a black tie event and the audience is filled with all manner of recognizable artists who come to honor their friends and peers.

The ceremony is held in the fall and broadcast a few weeks later on CBS. The production value is of the highest quality and a pure pleasure to watch. It is a celebration in the truest sense of the word. The productions seem to get better every year -- yet I rarely hear them mentioned by John Q. Public. I think lots of folks are missing something special. (There are tons of YouTube segments from past Kennedy Center Honors presentations.)

The 2011 awards went to saxophonist Sonny Rollins, Broadway actress Barbara Cook, singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and actress Meryl Streep. There is always one representative from the "popular" music field that really gets the crowd on their feet, and this year it was Neil Diamond.

Following is the segment of this year's show honoring Diamond featuring performances by Rafael Saadiq, Jennifer Nettles, Lionel Ritchie, and Smokey Robinson. A couple of things that will help you enjoy the last song, "Sweet Caroline," that won't be immediately evident: "Sweet Caroline" is sung in the middle of the 8th inning at all Boston Red Sox home games, and it was inspired by Caroline Kennedy, the host of the honors show, when Diamond saw a picture of her when she was a little girl. You'll understand when you see it. Enjoy . . . and tune in next year! (And hats off to Meryl Streep for her engagement with every moment of the performances—not just Neil Diamond's, but all the honorees.) (There's a 2-3 second blank space in the video, but it continues.)

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