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Joni Mitchell & Bette Midler Among 2021 Kennedy Center Honorees

Joni Mitchell & Bette Midler Among 2021 Kennedy Center Honorees

Joni MitchellBette Midler, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels and operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz are the 2021 Kennedy Center honorees.

If it seems like the Kennedy Center Honors just aired on CBS, well, they did. The show that would have normally been held in December 2020 was finally held in May (and aired on CBS on June 6), delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kennedy Center announced that this year’s show will return to the famed Opera House after the most recent show was taped all over the Kennedy Center campus to allow for greater social distancing.

Several of this year’s honorees have already received major career honors. Gordy and Mitchell have both been honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Recording Academy. Gordy was ushered into the Rock Hall (in the non-performer category) in 1988, was awarded a trustees award from the Recording Academy in 1991 and received the pioneer award from the SHOF in 2013. Mitchell was voted into both the Rock Hall and the SHOF in 1997 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Academy five years later.

Michaels was voted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1999. Michaels has won 20 Emmy Awards. SNL has won a total of 87 Emmys and is nominated for 21 more this year.

Mitchell has won eight Grammy Awards in competition, including album of the year for her featured role on Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters (2007), which was a tribute to her music.

Midler is closer to EGOT status than any of this year’s other honorees. She has won three Grammy Awards, including best new artist (1973) and record of the year for “Wind Beneath My Wings” (1989), three Emmys for Ol’ Red Hair Is Back (1978), The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1992) and Diva Las Vegas (1997) and a Tony for Hello, Dolly! (2017), which she received 43 years after receiving a special Tony for “for adding lustre to the Broadway season.” Midler has also been nominated twice for an Oscar for best actress, for The Rose (1979) and For the Boys (1991).

Gordy and Díaz have never won Grammys in competition, though each has been nominated for one competitive Grammy. Gordy was belatedly nominated for best R&B song for “I’ll Be There” when Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz re-popularized the Jackson 5 classic in 1992.  Díaz was nominated for best opera recording for Verdi: Otello in 1986.

Michaels, 76, and Mitchell, 77, were both born in Canada. Díaz, 81, was born in Puerto Rico. Gordy, 91, was born in Detroit; Midler, 75, in Hawaii before it became a state.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will produce this year’s Kennedy Center Honors. It will be the seventh consecutive year that White Cherry has produced the show.

“The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates luminaries whose art and creativity have enriched us beyond measure,” Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a statement.

Here are the honoree statements, in full, taken from that same statement.

“I’m deeply grateful to be receiving this Honor. It is especially thrilling for me because 50 years ago I sang as the male lead in Ginastera’s Beatrix Cenci on the Opera House stage at the Kennedy Center’s grand opening — the night after Bernstein’s Mass. I was the first operatic voice to christen the walls of this wonderful institution all those years ago and I am beyond honored to return to this stage to have such a distinction bestowed on me. I am humbled as I assume my place amongst so many wonderful peers and talented artists.” – Justino Díaz

“The Arts not only give voice to the voiceless, but connect us, transform us, and soothe our souls. The Kennedy Center Honors epitomizes the recognition and value of both the Arts, and the Artist. I am thrilled to become a part of this prestigious American legacy. Growing up in Detroit, I was not only Black but the “black sheep” of my family. I was a failure at everything I did until I was 29 years old, while my younger brother Robert was not only a family favorite, but strangely, a favorite of mine as well. He inspired me with his loyalty, love, and graciousness. 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. Thank you.” – Berry Gordy

“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.” – Lorne Michaels

“I am profoundly touched by this honor, in fact, I am stunned and grateful beyond words. 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. Thank you to the Kennedy Center for recognizing me, and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who put me here.” – Bette Midler

“I’m grateful to the Kennedy Center for bestowing this honor on my work and I look forward to being a part of this prestigious celebration of the arts. I wish my mother and father were alive to see this. It’s a long way from Saskatoon.” – Joni Mitchell

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