Honoring performing artists for a “lifetime of contributions to American culture,” the annual event is normally held in December, but last year’s gala was postponed due to Covid-19. Joan Baez, violinist Midori, choreographer Debbie Allen and Dick Van Dyke will all join Brooks in be honored when the 43rd Kennedy Center Honors do take place, but the ceremony has been modified to observe special Covid-19 precautions.
Opting to scrap the usual plan which involved a jam-packed Kennedy Center Opera House and a long night of live-performance tributes to the honorees, the 2021 edition will instead lean on virtual tributes, and a bare minimum of in-person contact.
“The center’s entire campus will come alive with small, in-person events and re-envisioned virtual tributes,” notes an official statement about the gala. “Featuring multiple events for physically-distant audiences in locations across the Kennedy Center’s campus… Programs for each event will encompass both performances and speaking tributes for the honorees. Virtual events will also be held throughout the week beginning May 17, and the viability of additional in-person events will be considered as COVID-19 safety protocols evolve over the upcoming months… An honoree medallion ceremony for the honorees and a limited audience will be hosted by the Kennedy Center during [the week of] May 17–22.”
“President John F. Kennedy was a childhood hero of mine, and he has continued to be through every stage of my life,” Garth Brooks says. “He knew that a nation is defined by its culture and a culture is defined by its arts. I have watched many of my heroes sit in that booth during their ceremony, I have even had the joyous honor of singing for some of them on their special night. The hope is to have contributed to humanity like my heroes have, to inspire us to be the most we can be as individuals, global citizens, and a part of human history. But most of all, to simply laugh, cry, love, and dream through music… I have been blessed to do just that as a fan and as an artist.”
The Kennedy Center Honors are usually attended by the President of the United States, although President Trump declined his invitation each of his four years in office. Previous recipients include Linda Ronstadt, Reba McEntire, Lionel Richie, Merle Haggard and many more. The event will be filmed and edited down to a two-hour primetime special, which will air on CBS on June 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.