Barbara Cook
The New York Times
Meryl Streep, Neil Diamond and Yo-Yo Ma Among Kennedy Center Honorees

By Ashley Southall
September 7, 2011
When the actress Meryl Streep learned that she would be among the five performers to receive this year’s John F. Kennedy Center Honors, the moment was bittersweet.

“I am deeply honored by this news, and wish my mother and father were alive to hear it!” she said in a statement Tuesday sent from Connecticut, where she is filming the romantic comedy “Great Hope Springs.” “All that education, allowance, tuition, voice lessons, summer jobs, scholarship application deadlines and loving care and discipline – all that they gave me, bore fruit in a way they never dreamed. I am so grateful!”

The Kennedy Center announced on Wednesday that Ms. Streep will be honored this year alongside the singers Barbara Cook and Neil Diamond, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The annual awards are given to individuals in the performing arts for their lifetime contributions to American culture.

The group will be honored by President and Mrs. Obama at a White House reception on Dec. 4, followed by a gala at the Kennedy Center here. Caroline Kennedy will serve as the host and the program will be broadcast on Dec. 27 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

The night before the gala, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will present the recipients with their medallions during a toast at the State Department.

Ms. Streep, 62, a two-time Oscar winner, has embraced roles ranging from a mother held in a Nazi concentration camp in the drama “Sophie’s Choice” to a demanding fashion editor in the comedy “The Devil Wears Prada.” She has 16 Academy Award nominations, more than any other actress, and she received the National Medal of Arts in March.

Mr. Diamond, 70, is one of popular music’s most enduring performers and is known for creating pop standards from the 1960s and 1970s like “Solitary Man” and “Sweet Caroline,” the unofficial anthem of the Boston Red Sox. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, Mr. Diamond singer said in an interview Monday that he got engaged this summer and has plans to record another album before touring the United States next summer.

“I have the best job in the world,” he said. “And as long as I’m strong and healthy, I’m going to do that.”

Ms. Cook, 83, has been on of the premiere interpreters of musical theater works since her breakthrough performance on Broadway in 1956 as Cunégonde in Candide. The soprano said she was “gobsmacked” when she received an award letter in August from the Kennedy Center. “There had been rumors that it might happen but I didn’t really believe it,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday from her home in Manhattan. “And frankly, I still don’t believe it.”

Mr. Ma, at 55 the youngest honoree this year, is known for pushing the boundaries of classical music with his Silk Road Project. Since picking up the cello at age 4, he has recorded more than 75 albums and performed for six American presidents, including a performance at the 2009 inauguration of Mr. Obama. In February, Mr. Ma received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

When he was 7 years old, Mr. Ma played at a benefit concert in Washington for what would later become the Kennedy Center. In a telephone interview on Wednesday, he described the award from the Kennedy Center as a homecoming. “I feel like part of me has always been there,” he said. “I have lots and lots and lots of memories.”

Decades after Mr. Rollins,81, composed jazz standards “St. Thomas” and “Oleo,” he still practices daily the improvisational style that has defined his career since the 1950s. He said the Kennedy Center Honors and the Medal of Arts he received in March place him among his idols and former collaborators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

“Those are people who inspired me so much,” he said. “Hopefully, this in some way will help me get closer to my musical ideals.”
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