The Kennedy Center Honors is awarded every year since 1978. It is given to those in the performing arts for their contributions to American culture. The Honors have been presented in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center Opera House since it started. It is a weekend-long event to honor the Honorees.
George Stevens, Jr. and the late Nick Vanoff created the Kennedy Center Honors. Walter Cronkite hosted the Honors from 1978 until 2002. He couldn’t host the event in 2003 because he had laryngitis. In 2003 Caroline Kennedy filled in for Walter Cronkite and has been hosting the Honors since. In 2004 Walter Cronkite returned to the Honors to officially hand over the reins for good to Caroline Kennedy.
The weekend-long event consists of lunch, dinner, reception, and a performance introducing the Honorees for the year. On the Saturday of the weekend event the lunch is at the Kennedy Center. At the lunch the Chairman of the Board of Trustees gives a welcoming speech. On that Saturday evening there is a reception and dinner at the State Department. It is presided over by the Secretary of State who introduces that year’s Honorees. On the Sunday of the weekend event there is an early evening White House reception with the President of the United States. The President will hang a specially designed ribboned award around the Honorees necks.
At the Opera House in the Kennedy Center is where the weekend event performances take place on Sunday evening. The Honorees wear their medals and sit in the front of the Box Tier a few seats away from the President and the First Family. The Honorees do not appear on stage at all throughout the Sunday evening performances. The complete list of performers is kept unpublicized until the show is in progress. The revenues generated by the Kennedy Center Honors on the Sunday evening helps support the nonprofit arts and education activities of the Kennedy Center.
In the 34 years since the inception of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, there have been 176 recipients of the award. The majority have been given to individuals. Since 1985 there have been eight occasions the award was presented to duos. Those duos were: lyricist Alan Jay Lerner & composer Frederick Loewe, actors Hume Cronyn & Jessica Tandy, musical-comedy duo Betty Comden & Adolph Greene, the Nicholas Brothers (Fayard & Harold), actors Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, John Kander & Fred Edd, actors Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, and musicians Pete Townsend & Roger Daltrey of The Who.
The 2010 Honorees were: Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Bill T. Jones, Paul McCartney, and Oprah Winfrey.
There have been some who were selected to be honored, but they either turned it down or the committee withdrew the person’s name. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz was to be honored, but the committee withdrew the offer. Horowitz would only accept the award if he was honored alone and at 4 in the afternoon. That is why the committee withdrew his name from being honored. Actress Katherine Hepburn did decline the honor the first time the committee offered it to her, but then did accept it in 1990. In 2002 Paul McCartney was selected to receive the award, but he had to turn it down because of a personal obligation. In 2010 Paul McCartney became an honoree and was able to accept it the second time he was offered it.