By Kathleen Miller
WASHINGTON — Oprah Winfrey is giving up control over one show she’ll be in this fall: the Kennedy Center Honors.
The 56-year-old TV host and actress will be honored at the 33rd annual event in Washington on Dec. 5, along with musician and former Beatles member Paul McCartney, dancer, choreographer and director Bill T. Jones; country singer-songwriter Merle Haggard; and Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman. The honorees were announced last week.
“I love surprising people, I don’t like being surprised,” Winfrey told The Associated Press. “Releasing any kind of control over a show and allowing myself to sit there and be surprised is not going to be easy but I’m willing to do that.”
The Kennedy Center Honors recognize performing artists for their contributions to American culture. Winners are selected by the Kennedy Center’s Board of Trustees.
In addition to her award-winning TV show, Winfrey earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her work in the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple.”
Winfrey is used to celebrating others, both on her popular television show and at previous Kennedy Center Honors programs, but she said she’s looking forward to being celebrated this time around.
“When I’ve done them in the past for people, it has always felt a little bit like being bombarded with a love festival that is about you, and you know that’s gotta feel good,” Winfrey said during a phone interview in between filming for her show’s 25th and final season.
The man who is responsible for the event, creator and producer George Stevens Jr., said being a spectator is part of the fun for attendees.
“We don’t put much of a burden on them,” Stevens said. “You don’t sing for your supper. They are not asked to speak or perform. They simply receive the tribute of their colleagues and peers, which really makes it very different for them, and is part of what makes it so special.”
Country star Haggard, perhaps best known for his song “Mama Tried,” acknowledged being an audience member will be a new role for him too.
“I don’t know exactly what to do, I guess just sit there and look like you’re having fun,” Haggard said in his trademark plainspeak, while acknowledging how honored he will feel to hear others sing part of his music.
Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a written statement about the honorees that the honesty of Haggard’s music and poetic lyrics “has helped to shape the world of country music for nearly five decades.”
McCartney had been named to receive the Kennedy Center Honors in 2002 but backed out because of a personal obligation.
President Barack Obama and the first lady Michell Obama will host the 2010 honorees at the White House before attending the gala with them at the Kennedy Center.
Jones, who co-founded the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company as part of an openly gay, interracial couple, says the award and White House reception will shape his worldview.
“I’ve always had this kind of position of feeling just outside, maybe the other, I don’t know why but maybe a stepchild,” Jones said. “As one gets older and you realize that your brand of art-making with its implied protest is actually something that people in positions of power respect, it’s a very important change, very important change, it makes you feel more of a sense of responsibility but it’s a responsibility you can accept joyfully.”
The gala will be recorded for broadcast as a two-hour prime-time special on CBS. This year’s will air Dec. 28.