Talk show host phenomenon Oprah Winfrey and choreographer Bill T. Jones were among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors medallion that recognizes five artists each year for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. But after over three decades, there still hasn’t been an Asian American winner.

“She has shown millions of people around the world — people she probably will never meet — what it means to believe in ‘the dream of your own life,’” President Obama told a crowd in the East Room at the White House when he presenting the honors.

Of course, Oprah’s done it all, including gaining impossibly popular TV ratings and acting in Oscar-winning films. She’s got her own magazine and now her own cable television network.

Meanwhile, Jones is among the most recognizable names in the world of dance. In one of his most recent performance, Jones uses spoken word, dance, video projections and music to articulate the view of Abraham Lincoln he had as a young boy growing up during the civil rights struggle. (Check out his latest piece, “Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray” in the video above.) 

Obama’s words on Jones:

Bill has earned widespread acclaim and artistic success in the hyper-competitive world of modern dance — all while battling poverty, homophobia and racism. … And through it all, Bill has never compromised his sense of purpose or lost his ability to inspire others to greater heights. “I’m not afraid to stand up,” Bill once said. “I’m not afraid to be looked at — making my art is a way of saying to people — gay people, HIV-positive people — that life is worth it.”

Other recipients this year included country music artist Merle Haggard, composer and lyricist Jerry Herman , who’s known for his work on Broadway musical theater, and Sir Paul McCartney.

Actress Marian Anderson (1978) and Ella Fitzgerald (1979) were the first honorees of color to receive the prestigious award. In 1996, eighteen years after the first Kennedy honor was handed out, ballerina Maria Tallchief became the first American Indian to receive the award. Placido Domingo was the first Latino to receive the award in 2000. 

Although the Kennedy Center has named other awards after Asian Americans, the top Kennedy award has never gone to an Asian American.

The Kennedy Center Honors medallions were presented this past Saturday, however the Honors Gala was recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 33rd consecutive year as a two-hour prime time special on Tuesday, December 28 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT).

But the must see clip of the evening is below. Remember that split lip Obama suffered during a recent holiday pick-up basketball game? Well, he had a little trouble with some words.


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