The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performance Arts announced Thursday the entertainers who will be receiving The Kennedy Center Honors, the country's highest honors for Americans in the performing arts, awarded annually since 1977. The recipients will be celebrated with a White House reception with President Barack Obama, a State Department dinner with Secretary of State John Kerry and finally, a glitzy gala at the Kennedy Center.
Here's who will be receiving all this attention and why they earned it:
Opera singer Martina Arroyo has graced stages all across the world, from the operas in London, Milan and Vienna to the concert halls in Berlin, Paris and Rome. Since making her New York Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965, she has performed there 199 times – three of them highly-coveted opening nights – and is best known for her interpretations of Verdi, Puccini, Strauss and Mozart. Arroyo, born and raised by her Puerto Rican father and an African-American mother in Harlem, is also hailed for helping to break down racial barriers in the opera world and now is teaching the next generation of singers.
Before he discovered jazz, Herbie Hancock was a classical musical prodigy who was playing piano for the Chicago Symphony by the age of 11. He put all that aside the first time he heard jazz performer Chris Anderson, and under Anderson's tutelage, went on to play in Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet. He has composed and recorded a number of jazz tunes, many of them Grammy Award winning, and is known for his collaborations with pop and electronic musicians.
"Piano Man" Billy Joel has won six Grammy awards and has been nominated for 23 others during the course of his 40 year career. His greatest hits compilation is one of the top-selling albums of all time, and he continues to sell out stadiums with his hits "Uptown Girl," "Allentown" and "We Didn't Start the Fire."
The only non-musician among this year's honorees (though she can sing), actress Shirley MacLaine has appeared in more than 70 films in addition to her television and stage roles. She won an Oscar for 1984's "Terms of Endearment" (the clip above shows why) and has been nominated for five other performances. Most recently, she appeared on PBS's hit show "Downton Abbey" and will be featured in the upcoming film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."
The only immigrant among this year's honorees, Carlos Santana was born in a small village in Mexico and immigrated to San Francisco in the early 1960s with his family. His smooth blend of blues guitar, Latin and African percussion and the psychedelic sounds of '60s and '70s California earned him mainstream success. He has never left the charts, often teaming with pop stars like Rob Thomas and Michelle Branch, and Rolling Stone named him the 20th greatest guitarist of all time.