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Gala celebration planned for JFK 50th anniversary

The legacy of John F. Kennedy will be remembered in song, music, dance and words starting with a lineup of artistic luminaries on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Inaugural.

A concert on January 20, 2011, announced by the Kennedy Center on Wednesday, will feature Julie Andrews, Yo-Yo Ma, Herbie Hancock, Harolyn Blackwell, Paul Simon and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

That evening, under music director Christoph Eschenbach, the National Symphony Orchestra will premiere a composition by Peter Lieberson drawn from the speeches and writings of Kennedy. "Remembering JFK: An American Elegy" will be narrated by Morgan Freeman.

The American Ballet Theatre will also perform "The Dying Swan" and other works that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis particularly enjoyed. The Jan. 20 gala will also include appearances by the Manzari Brothers, Terrence McNally and Lorne Michaels. The hosts of the event are Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols.

President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy leave the White House on Jan 20 1961, en route to a full evening of parties being given in honor of his inauguration earlier that day. (AP)

For those keeping track of how notable are the heavyweights for the January 20 gala: Oscar-winning Andrews played Guenevere in the original Broadway production of "Camelot," which became a reference point for the glamour and achievements of the Kennedy administration. Ma and Hancock are multiple Grammy winners. McNally has four Tony Awards. Mitchell, one of Broadway's leading men, has a Tony Award. Freeman has an Oscar.

Michaels, the creator and producer of "Saturday Night Live" is a former Mark Twain Prize recipient. Nichols, the writer and director, weights down the list with all of the prestigious awards -- Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony, and he has about nine of those and is a former Kennedy Center Honoree. Sawyer, the award-winning journalist, is married to Nichols.

And Blackwell, a well-known opera singer, made her Broadway debut in the 1980 revival of " West Side Story," the masterwork by Leonard Bernstein, who wrote "Mass" for the opening of the center in 1971.

The Kennedy Center functions as a performing arts venue, as well as a living memorial to Kennedy. In 1963, just weeks before his assassination, Kennedy said, "I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens."

As the anniversary of the New Frontier, a term used by Kennedy in his 1960 acceptance speech, begins, the center has blended its responsibilities of honoring the Kennedy memory, instructing its visitors on what the 35th president represented and providing cultural entertainment.

Part of the legacy of the Kennedy White House is its appreciation and promotion of the arts. The center will recreate on January 25 the 1961 memorable evening where Pablo Casals performed in the East Room. As previously announced, Ma will play the cello and be accompanied by Emanuel Ax and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.

A second groundbreaking evening at the Kennedy White House occurred in 1962 when Grace Bumbry became the first African American opera singer to perform in the mansion. This recital will be recreated February 1 by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, as previously announced.

The tributes, called "The Presidency of John F. Kennedy: a 50th Anniversary Celebration," will include a NSO reprise of the Lieberson work January 22-24 with additional music from Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.

A special concert for young audiences will be presented at the Millennium Stage January 22 and 23. Another program for families is a new play based on two collections of poetry selected by Caroline Kennedy, the president's daughter. "American Scrapbook: a Celebration of Verse" was commissioned by the center and will be performed from January 28 through February 6.

Caroline Kennedy is also hosting a poetry reading of verse her parents read to her but will only be broadcast on the center's website.

The American Ballet Theater was also a guest at the White House during the Kennedy administration and Jacqueline Onassis was a member of the company's board for more than 25 years. During its appearance at the Kennedy Center on January 18-23, the dancers will perform her favorites of Balanchine, Tudor and Robbins.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | October 13, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Jacqueline Trescott, Kennedy Center  | Tags:  Kennedy Center, President Kennedy, Tribute to Kennedy  
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