McCartney, Winfrey, Haggard to be feted

Country singer-songwriter Merle Haggard, dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones, composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and TV host-actor-producer Oprah Winfrey have been selected to receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, the org said Tuesday.

The five will be feted Dec. 5 at a black-tie gala and variety show to be broadcast Dec. 28 on CBS. George Stevens Jr. and son Michael will again produce the telecast, which is expected to draw President Obama and wife, Michelle, along with a SRO crowd of political and showbiz celebs.

Event will be preceded by a reception at the White House and a dinner the previous evening at the State Dept. hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein said this year’s recipients have spent their lives enriching, inspiring and elevating the world’s cultural vibrancy. He praised Haggard for the “honesty” of his music and lyrics, and Herman for his musicals (“Mame,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “Hello, Dolly!”) that “rank him in the pantheon of Broadway’s Golden Age.”

He said the inventive style and artistry of Jones (“Fela!”) has had “an invaluable impact on the varied landscapes of dance and theater,” while McCartney was cited simply as “one of the most influential and successful songwriters and musicians of all time.” Rubenstein said Winfrey has established “one of the most innovative careers in the entertainment world, with distinctive accomplishments in television and film.”

This year’s honorees are especially rich with storylines, although familiar to their fans. They include the bootstrap sagas of Haggard and Winfrey; the former overcame a misspent youth that landed him in San Quentin prison in California before he got serious about a career in country music. McCartney ranks as the only prospective honoree to receive a “do-over” in the event’s 33-year history. He was tapped in 2002 for the honor and even accepted before opting out for personal reasons. Singer-songwriter Paul Simon accepted as an 11th hour fill-in.

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