Placido Domingo, Chuck Berry Among Kennedy Center Honors Winners

Two-hour gala will be telecast on CBS in December.

Tenor Placido Domingo and rock legend Chuck Berry are among the winners of this year's Kennedy Center Honors.

Also making the list are dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, actor/director Clint Eastwood and actress Angela Lansbury.

The five were chosen by a 103-member committee "for the unique and extremely valuable contributions they have made to the cultural life of our nation," Kennedy Center Chairman James A. Johnson said in a statement.

"[W]e honor an artist whose name is synonymous with dance at its most sublime, a musician who revolutionized American popular music, one of the greatest and most popular singers that the world of opera has ever produced, a film icon equally brilliant in front and behind the camera, and a beloved actress who has conquered the worlds of film, theater and television," Johnson said.

"I'm tremendously moved since this is now the highest honor in the area of culture this country can bestow," Domingo said in a statement. "It is especially thrilling for me because through the Kennedy Center Honors voting system it is in essence a recognition from my peers in the music world of the work I've done here over so many years."

Domingo, born in Madrid, Spain, and raised in Mexico City, son of the acclaimed zarzuela singers Placido Domingo and Pepita Embil, made his singing debut in Mexico in 1961. He made his name singing the world premiere of Ginastera's Don Rodrigo, which inaugurated the New York City Opera's residence at Lincoln Center in 1966. He quickly rose to international prominence and has performed around the world, often as part of the Three Tenors (along with Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carrerras).

Clap Your Hands

He has served as the music director of the World's Fair in Seville, Spain, and artistic director of the Washington Opera in the nation's capital. He founded (and is artistic director of) the Los Angeles Opera and established Operalia, the biggest annual vocal competition in the world. And he holds the world record for the longest ovation ever on the operatic stage: 101 curtain calls and 80 minutes of applause after singing Otello on June 30, 1991, in Vienna, Austria.

Singer/songwriter Berry is considered one of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll. Born in St. Louis, in 1926, Berry recorded his first single, "Maybellene," for the Chess label in 1955.

His other hits include, "Roll Over Beethoven," "Johnny B. Goode," "Back in the USA," "School Days" and his only #1 hit, "My Ding-a-Ling." In 1984, he was presented with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement, and three years later he was among the first artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Johnny B. Goode" is the only rock song included in a "Sounds of Earth" record aboard the spacecraft Voyagers I and II, now en route out of the solar system. "If an intelligent life form out there finds the record," stated a spokesman for the Jet Propulsion Lab, " 'Johnny B. Goode' will be rock 'n' roll's representative to the universe."

"He's pleased that he's being honored and pleased that he's helped bring rock to the mainstream. He's a pioneer and rock 'n' roll is the leading music in the world. When we started in this, we were the outcasts," said Dick Alen, Berry's spokesperson.

During his career, Berry has had various scrapes with the law. In 1959 he was charged and subsequently convicted of a violation of the Mann Act . In 1979 he was charged with tax evasion and served 100 days in prison. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession in 1990.

When asked about the appropriateness of honoring Berry, a Kennedy Center spokesperson had no comment.

Equal Opportunity Award

Besides Domingo, Lansbury and Baryshnikov are also foreign-born. Lansbury hails from London and Baryshnikov is a Russian émigré.

"Isn't that the tradition of this country?" Baryshnikov asked the New York Times. "It is so wonderful to immigrants, and I am one of them.

"I am very excited and honored," the dancer continued, "but accepting this award makes me uncomfortable because so many artists I have worked with in the past 25 years deserve this recognition more than me. I will hold a place in line for them."

The honorees will receive their awards at a State Department dinner on Dec. 2 and will be saluted in a gala performance at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center on Saturday, Dec. 3. The performance will be televised on CBS network stations later in December. (Sonicnet.com's parent company, Viacom, also owns CBS.)

The Kennedy Center Honors was created by George Stevens Jr. and Nick Vanoff in 1978. The two-hour Honors telecast has been honored with five Emmy's for Outstanding Program as well as the Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.