Jake’s Take: Performers Who Deserve Kennedy Center Honors (The 2019 Edition)

Kennedy Center Honors wish list
Here is my annual list of performers who should be honored for future Kennedy Center Honors. (Logo property of the Kennedy Center)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

The Kennedy Center Honors are the United States’ prestigious celebration of the performing arts and pop culture.  Since 1978, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has recognized some of the world’s top performers who have made an impact on American culture.  Lucille Ball, Ray Charles, Cher, Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, David Letterman, Sir Paul McCartney, and Oprah Winfrey are several members of this elite group.

On Sunday, December 15, CBS will air the 2019 edition of the Kennedy Center Honors. Actress Sally Field, R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire, vocalist Linda Ronstadt, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and Sesame Street will be honored.  Every year, I have created a recommendation list that features a plethora of performers that should be honored. Here are my recommendations for potential members of the 2020s classes.

Broadway’s best could pay tribute to Audra McDonald at the Kennedy Center. (Photo property of L.A. Confidential/Belvedere/Water Club/Sapporo Emmy Party | Wikimedia Commons)

Audra McDonald

Actress-singer Audra McDonald has entertained generations of Americans with her impeccable performances on the stage and screen. She won six Tony Awards and received the National Medal of Arts from former President Obama in 2015. Millennials might recognize some of her work such as Annie (1999), The Good Fight, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Porgy and Bess, Private Practice, A Raisin in the Sun, and Ricki & The Flash.

The Kennedy Center audience would be singing along to some of Barry Manilow’s music if he was honored. (Photo property of Matt Becker | Wikimedia Commons)

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow’s career spans over 50 years! He has written and produced a plethora of songs such as “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs,” “I Made It Through the Rain,” “Bandstand Boogie,” and “Copacabana (At the Copa).” Mr. Manilow’s work has been recognized with three American Music Awards, a Grammy, an Emmy, a Special Tony Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Music’s biggest voices could potentially blow off the Kennedy Center’s roof when they honor Chaka Khan. (Photo property of the Heart Truth | Wikimedia Commons)

Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan has one of the most impeccable voices on the planet. The legendary vocalist has amassed over an estimated 70 million records worldwide. The “Tell Me Something Good” singer won 10 Grammys and collaborated with a plethora of music royalty such as Ray Charles and Quincy Jones to Eric Clapton and Mary J. Blige.

Expect some of the world’s greatest guitarists to rock the Kennedy Center if Eric Clapton gets honored. (Photo property of Yummifruitbat | Wikimedia Commons)

Eric Clapton 

Speaking of Eric Clapton, he is one of the UK’s rock gods that has not been recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors. The iconic guitarist is a three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee that has won 18 Grammys and knighted as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2004. The “Tears in Heaven” musician has sold over 100 million records worldwide. 

Comedian and talk show host Joy Behar could possibly bring the laughs at her Kennedy Center Honors celebration. (Photo property of ABC News)

Joy Behar 

The Emmy-winning talk show host and comedian has been a fixture on ABC’s The View for over 20 years. Also, she published five books, headlined three solo talk show series, and appeared on several television shows, including Baby Boom, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and Crisis in Six Scenes. In 2010, Ms. Behar received the GLAAD Media Award’s Excellence in Media Award. 

Liza Minnelli’s Kennedy Center Honors could feature legendary performers pay homage to the entertainment icon. (Photo property of The Heart Truth | Wikimedia Commons)

Liza Minnelli

Vocal dynamo Liza Minnelli has entertained generations of Americans throughout six decades. From her legendary performances as Sally Bowles in Cabaret to her sold-out shows at the Palace Theatre, the “New York, New York” always left audiences spellbound. Also, the actress-singer has won an Oscar, an Emmy, two Golden Globes, and four Tony Awards throughout her career.

Legendary bandleader Paul Shaffer would bring a plethora of late night talk’s greatest to the Kennedy Center if he was honored. (Photo property of Greg2600 | Wikimedia Commons)

Paul Shaffer 

Paul Shaffer made his mark on multiple entertainment genres since the 1970s. He served as David Letterman’s musical director and bandleader for both Late Night with David Letterman and Late Show with David Letterman. He also serves as the artistic director and producer for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. 

Samuel L. Jackson’s Kennedy Center Honors tribute could feature a plethora of MCU actors. (Photo property of Thivierr | Wikimedia Commons)

Samuel L. Jackson 

Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most recognizable actors of his generation. He has participated in several film franchises such as The Incredibles, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Mr. Jackson also appeared in classic films such as Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Coach Carter, and Django Unchained. Throughout his career, Mr. Jackson earned a BAFTA, two Independent Spirit Awards, four NAACP Image Awards, and nominated for an Oscar and four Golden Globes. 

The Simpsons could make history if they are honored by the Kennedy Center. (Animation property of 20th Century FOX Television & Gracie Films)

The Simpsons 

With Sesame Street’s inclusion of this year’s ceremony, it has opened the door for other television shows to be recognized. I believe that The Simpsons should be the next television series to get honored by the Kennedy Center. The FOX television icon is the longest-running prime time animated series with nearly 670 episodes. The show also received numerous accolades, including a Peabody Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, eight People’s Choice Awards, 34 Emmys, and 34 Annie Awards. 

Revolutionary film director Spike Lee should be honored by the Kennedy Center. (Photo property of Georges Biard | Wikimedia Commons)

Spike Lee 

For over 30 years, film director, producer, and screenwriter Spike Lee released significant films that addressed race relations and other political issues. Several of his films such as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, The Original Kings of Comedy, and BlacKkKlansman have been recognized worldwide with accolades. Throughout his career, Mr. Lee earned two Oscars, two Emmys, two Peabody Awards, and two BAFTAs. 

Actress-singer Vanessa Williams would an excellent Kennedy Center honoree. (Photo property of WBLS | Wikimedia Commons)

Vanessa Williams

Singer-actress Vanessa Williams rounds out this edition. The future talk show host has entertained audiences through her impeccable roles such as the Witch (Into the Woods), Wilhelmina Slater (Ugly Betty), Renee Perry (Desperate Housewives), and Maxine Robinson (Daytime Divas). Ms. Williams received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Tony nomination, three Emmy nominations, and 11 Grammy nominations for her work.

What do you think of my list? Who should be honored by the Kennedy Center for future ceremonies?


  1. Of your list, I’d go with Spike Lee and Eric Clapton. I also agree with Audra, but not right now, as there are many older performers who should be recognized first.

  2. It seems like when most people give their Kennedy Center Honors picks they don’t include anyone from opera, dance or classical music, the sort of genres for which the Kennedy Center was created. I’ve got ten people in those fields who deserve the award:

    Renee Fleming
    Carlisle Floyd
    Frederica Von Stade
    Kiri Te Kanawa
    Meredith Monk
    Pinchas Zuckerman
    Vladimir Ashkenazy
    Cynthia Gregory
    Mark Morris
    Savion Glover

  3. I’ve already got my picks for the next five years:

    Betty White
    Joan Baez
    Tommy Tune
    Carlisle Floyd
    Berry Gordy

    Dick Van Dyke
    Arturo Sandoval
    Shirley Caesar
    Cynthia Gregory
    Burt Bacharach

    Joni Mitchell
    David Mamet
    Charley Pride
    Meredith Monk
    Johnny Mathis

    Bette Midler
    Tom Stoppard
    Wynton Marsalis
    Frederica Von Stade
    The Rolling Stones

    Whoopi Goldberg
    Mark Morris
    Stephen Schwartz
    Kiri Te Kanawa
    Eric Clapton

  4. Having seen four of these lists, I must say that I do not agree with most of the picks. My idea of the performing arts involves dance, opera, theatre and music–the sort of forms for which the Kennedy Center was built. Somehow hosting a talk show, judging a reality show or turning letters on a game show doesn’t quite qualify.

  5. Thomas Dipasquale says

    How is Aerosmith not mentioned? One of the greatest American rock bands in history. I know it’s tough with limited inductions each year but when you sell 150 million records, you deserve the honor

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