Kennedy Center Honors 2021 Honorees

Kennedy Center Honors 2021 Honorees

Getty Debbie Allen, Joan Baez, Dick Van Dyke, Garth Brooks and Midori Gotō pose during the 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at The Kennedy Center on May 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Despite pandemic-related delays, the star-studded Kennedy Center Honors will return with Gloria Estefan as host. It will celebrate the work and legacy of Debbie Allen, Joan Baetz, Garth Brooks, Dick Van Dyke and Midori. 

“The Kennedy Center Honors serves as a moment to celebrate the remarkable artists who have spent their lives elevating the cultural history of our nation and world,” the Kennedy Center announcement quoted Chairman David M. Rubenstein.

He continued, “Debbie Allen moves seamlessly between artistic disciplines and is a cultural ambassador for all while having a monumental impact on dancers of color everywhere; folk icon Joan Baez breathed new life into the genre and powered rock music’s turn toward social and political consciousness; as one of the world’s best-selling music artists, Garth Brooks heightened country music’s profile like no other singer before him; with an international presence for over 35 years, violinist Midori combines graceful precision and expression for performances building connections between art and the human experience; with a charm that has made him one of the most cherished performers in show business history, Dick Van Dyke has brought us beloved film, stage, and TV characters adored by generations of fans, for more than seven decades.”

Originally scheduled for December 2020, filming was pushed to May 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The show will look a little different this year. According to the announcement, the Kennedy Center Honors will include “small, in-person events and re-envisioned virtual tribute” spread throughout the theater’s campus.

Here’s what you need to know:

Debbie Allen

Allen is an “actress, dancer, choreographer, singer-songwriter, director and producer,” CBS revealed in their announcement. She rose to stardom for her role in Fame, winning a Golden Globe Award and Emmy Awards for her acting and choreography.

Also accomplished on stage, the Grey’s Anatomy star earned Tony nominations for her roles in Sweet Charity and West Side Story.

During a 2008 NPR interview, she opened up about switching between her various roles, saying, “I have just grown up in the world of creativity. Literature and books have always been at the center of our lives as children. My mother, Vivian Ayers, raised us reading books, going to museums. So I’ve always had a tremendous imagination and a tremendous appetite for the challenge of creativity.”

I went to Howard University, and there I studied classical literature,” she continued. “I was a minor in classics, translated all the great Greek writers, from Aeschylus to – just name one, all of them.”

Joan Baez

Baez is a folk singer, activist and even a painter, described as a “Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and multiple Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, musician and activist,” in CBS’ honoree announcement.
“It has been my life’s joy to make art. It’s also been my life’s joy to make, as the late Congressman John Lewis called it, ‘good trouble,’” she wrote on Instagram after being announced as an honoree. “What luck to have been born with the ability to do both; each one giving strength and credibility to the other. “
She continued, “I am indebted to many for a privileged life here. I’ve tried to share my good fortune with others anywhere and everywhere in the world. Sometimes there have been risks, but they are only a part of the meaning of it all.⁣⁣”


Midori is a Grammy Award-winning concert violinist who has been playing for more than 35 years.

“Artists have a singular responsibility, through our work and deeds, to echo and mirror our society and serve its needs,” her Kennedy Center profile quotes the musician. “As a new chapter of life is about to begin for all of us, I especially feel the current moment’s necessities and opportunities to explore a spring of new and preserved energies and discoveries, to play my part in seeking various avenues and forms of creativity and recovery. From an early age, I have been gifted with extraordinary experiences. I consider them to be my treasure and fortune that I might now draw upon.”

She continues, “I wish to accomplish much going forward. My plans are to be making music again, in both pioneering and traditional ways, to sing out and to stir what lies within us, to describe mysteries, of the heart and of the mind. So, in the spirit of peace and connectivity through this country and the world, I am thrilled to be a recipient of one of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, as we, together, reach toward renewed expression of the dreams and hopes that unify us all.”

Garth Brooks

It is Garth Brooks’ turn to receive the Kennedy Center Honor after performing tributes at the award ceremonies for James Taylor, Billy Joel and Loretta Lynn. According to a CBS announcement, he is “multiple Grammy Award, ACM Award and CMA Award-winning country music entertainer.”

The star has numerous accolades under his belt, including his Billboard Awards Icon Award, the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and induction into the Musicians Hall of Fame. He even had an A&E documentary, Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On.

Brooks opened up about receiving the honor on Instagram writing, “I am humbled and grateful to EVERYONE that has celebrated this music over the years, this is OUR honor TOGETHER. To the singers and players who perform in the show tonight, thank you for making me fall in love with the music all over again.”

Dick Van Dyke

Dick Van Dyke is the legendary actor, known for playing Bert in Mary Poppins, Mark Sloan on Diagnosis Murder and Albert Peterson in Bye, Bye Birdie. As CBS noted, he is an “Emmy Award, Grammy Award and Tony Award-winning actor, comedian, writer, singer and dancer.”

Speaking of the honor on his Kennedy Center profile, he said, “Many years ago, I was the host of a similar event held, as I recall, in private with the Kennedy family. I saw the care with which the recipient was chosen from an impressive list of nominees. Since the creation of the Kennedy Center Honors, just over 200 have been honored with equal care. Being included in that small, illustrious group, is the thrill of my life.”

The 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air tonight on CBS and Paramount+ at 8 p.m. Eastern.

READ NEXT: WATCH: Garth Brooks Gets Emotional at Kennedy Center Honors