Recipients bring top marquee value

WASHINGTON — Multifaceted actor-comedian Bill Cosby, singer Willie Nelson, conductor Andre Previn, film star-ambassador Shirley Temple Black and the Broadway composer/lyricist team of John Kander and Fred Ebb have been selected to receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors.

The artists, tapped by the Kennedy Center with help from a 132-member committee of their peers, will be recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. As usual, they will be lauded here in December at a White House ceremony, a State Department dinner and a gala performance at the Kennedy Center.

Since they were created in 1978, the honors have become a Washington institution and a lucrative fundraiser for the center. The two-hour variety show, produced by George Stevens Jr. and Don Mischer, will again air on CBS during Christmas week.

This year’s recipients have higher than usual marquee value. Cosby, a writer, producer and show creator, has been a primetime TV staple since “I Spy” in the 1960s, when he became the first black lead in a dramatic series. Kander and Ebb (“Cabaret,” “Chicago,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) rank among Broadway’s most successful and enduring creative teams.

Previn, a composer, conductor and pianist, has been a force in American music for more than 40 years and has recently finished an opera based on Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which will premiere in San Francisco in September. Nelson has helped define contemporary music for half a century, while Temple Black was a beloved child star in Hollywood’s golden era and went on to perform as a young adult in film, then TV, and later became a U.S. diplomat.

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