'Sesame Street' and Earth, Wind & Fire among Kennedy Center honorees

Washington (AFP) –


The iconic children's television program "Sesame Street" along with the R&B collective Earth, Wind & Fire will be among those recognized at this year's Kennedy Center Honors, one of America's most prestigious arts awards.

The Kennedy Center -- Washington's performing arts complex that serves as a living monument to slain president John F. Kennedy -- announced Thursday that actress Sally Field, genre-spanning singer Linda Ronstadt and 11-time Grammy winning conductor Michael Tilson Thomas would also be among the 2019 class.

The choice of "Sesame Street" -- a childhood staple that premiered in 1969 to high viewership and glowing reviews, which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary -- marks the first time the Kennedy Center will honor a television program and the second time it chose a work of art rather than individuals.

Last year's inclusion of the groundbreaking musical "Hamilton" was the first such instance.

The program's co-founders will accept the award on the show's behalf, the Kennedy Center said. There was no word yet on whether cast members including the bright yellow Big Bird and furry red monster Elmo, known for his falsetto voice, will attend the December 8 gala.

"In this class of Honorees, we are witnessing a uniquely American story: one that is representative of so many cultural touchstones and musical moments that make our nation great," said Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter in a statement.

"We're not just looking back; these Honorees are urging us to look forward as well."

- Criticism of Trump -

The Kennedy Center Honors traditionally take place in the presence of the president, but Donald Trump, despised by many cultural and entertainment figures, has skipped Washington's rare night of red-carpet glamour for the past two years.

A number of this year's nominees have criticized the president: the funk-inflected Earth, Wind and Fire requested Trump stop using its music during his 2016 campaign, and folk-tinged Ronstadt has voiced anger over the White House separation of immigrant families at the US-Mexico border.

The 73-year-old Ronstadt -- who the Center dubbed the "consummate American artist -- sang her last concert in 2009 after a four-decade career that saw her deftly perform everything from country and rock to opera and Broadway standards.

Earth, Wind and Fire's unique poppy blend of funk, jazz, soul and R&B has made them one of the best-selling musical groups of all time. The legendary group has played before former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Tilson Thomas, 74, currently the director of the San Francisco Symphony, has conducted major orchestras throughout the US and Europe, garnering accolades including France's Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

And the Oscar-winning Field, 72, boasts extensive film credits including "Forrest Gump" and "Steel Magnolias" along with top television roles including on "Sybil" and "ER."

The gala, now in its 42nd year, will be broadcast on US network CBS on December 15.