Shirley MacLaine

Herbie Hancock and opera singer Martina Arroyo also will be honored at December gala

Actress Shirley MacLaine, singer/songwriter Billy Joel, opera singer Martina Arroyo, jazz legend Herbie Hancock and musician/songwriter Carlos Santana will receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors.

The five will be feted Dec. 8 at a Kennedy Center gala slated to be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS. As usual, the show will be produced by George Stevens Jr. and son Michael before an audience of political and showbiz titans expected to include President Barack Obama and the first lady.

It will be the 36th year for the event, which caps a weekend of festivities that include a private dinner at the U.S. State Department the previous evening, a White House reception and other functions.  It will be Secretary of State John Kerry’s first outing as host of the Dec. 7 dinner.

KenCen Chairman David M. Rubenstein said this year’s recipients “have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world.” Of the list’s four musicians, he praised Arroyo’s “glorious soprano voice,” Hancock’s ability to break musical barriers, Joel’s four prolific decades and Santana’s record of transcending genres. He saluted  MacLaine for her “remarkable breadth and range” demonstrated over a nearly 60-year career on stage and screen.

The selection of both Santana and Arroyo drew immediate praise from the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, the org that complained earlier this year that Hispanic artists have been under represented in the annual kudofest. Santana was born in Mexico while Arroyo was raised in Harlem by her Puerto Rican father and African American mother.

“This is a turning point of an expansive movement to bring full integration into an acknowledgment system for the arts,” said Felix Sanchez, chairman and cofounder and of the D.C.-based group.  He called Santana an “iconic musician,” and said Arroyo’s life story “is very important to the Latin American community.”

The Hispanic Foundation’s complaint resulted in a decision by the center last May to revise the process used to choose honorees. Supplementing its existing artists committee, it created a new six-person advisory panel to make recommendations. Members include cellist Yo-Yo Ma and dancer/singer/actress Chita Rivera, two former Honorees.

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