Since their inception in 1978, the Kennedy Center Honors have redefined America's perception of its artistic legacy and reinvented the way this nation rewards its artists. The Honors have been compared to a knighthood in Britain, or the French Legion of Honor--the quintessential reward for a lifetime's endeavor. At the same time, the annual addition of new names to the roster of Honors recipients charts the international standard of excellence set by America's artists, as well as the aesthetic inspiration provided by artists of other nations who have achieved prominence on these shores.
The annual Honors gala is an evening without categories, without disappointments, and without competition. And the Honors telecast, aired during the week between Christmas and New Year's, is a perennial Emmy nominee. It serves for millions of American arts lovers as the year's crowning event, paying tribute to our nation's preeminent artists with performances by the great stars of today who have followed in their footsteps.
The complete list of guest performers is kept secret until the show is in progress, keeping both the Honorees and the nation on the edge of their seats. "Our tradition of surprises and surprise guests is particularly special," says George Stevens, Jr., the show's longtime co-producer. "[The fun of the show] is increased by not knowing what to expect; the evening becomes exciting for the Honorees, whose reactions and pleasure at the proceedings make the evening so much fun to watch."
The Honors gala is the Kennedy Center's most important annual fundraising event, supporting its performing arts, education, and outreach programs. In addition to the gala performance in the Kennedy Center Opera House, the Honorees are treated to a White House reception and a banquet at the State Department.