US Kennedy Centre to honour singer Joan Baez, actor Dick Van Dyke and others

Honourees like folk icon Joan Baez (left) and Hollywood legend Dick Van Dyke will receive awards from May 17 to 22. PHOTOS: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hollywood legend Dick Van Dyke and folk icon Joan Baez are among those receiving this year's Kennedy Centre Honours, one of America's most prestigious arts awards, which will be distributed at a scaled-back event reimagined due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Choreographer and actress Debbie Allen, country singer-songwriter Garth Brooks and violinist Midori round out the 43rd class of honourees.

The Kennedy Centre - Washington's performing arts complex that serves as a living monument to slain president John F. Kennedy - was forced to twice postpone its night of red-carpet glitz traditionally held in December due to the coronavirus.

Instead of a single gala, a series of small in-person events with socially-distant audiences and virtual tributes is now slated for May 17 to May 22. The honourees will receive their medals during that week.

"This past year has taught us many things including the need to be flexible and adaptable," Kennedy Centre president Deborah Rutter said in a statement.

"The unusual circumstances inspired and opened up new ways for us to present a deeper experience, and hopefully understanding, of the art and lifetime work of our Honourees. 2020 has also shined a bright light on the impact of how art and culture speaks to our collective human experience."

A rare night of glamour in the United States capital, the Kennedy Centre Honours are normally a major fundraiser for the arts institution.

The centre has said it expects to lose an estimated US$45.7 million (S$60 million) in earned income during the 2020 to 2021 season, after it had to cancel much of its programming.

Art's 'responsibility'

In a statement, Baez, 80, extended her "deepest thanks," calling it her "life's joy to make art".

The prominent peace activist also acknowledged the career of late congressman John Lewis, saying "it's also been my life's joy to make...'good trouble,' using the civil rights activist's motto.

For Midori, 49, "artists have a singular responsibility, through our work and deeds, to echo and mirror our society and serve its needs."

"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," she said.

The 2021 awards show will be the first under Mr Joe Biden, the Democrat set to take over the White House next week.

It will mark a new era following four years of Mr Donald Trump - a man despised by many cultural and entertainment figures - who never attended the honours, normally held in the presence of the US president.

During his first year in office, several of the honoured artists threatened to boycott the event if the Republican went.

Former president Barack Obama, under whom Mr Biden served as vice-president, particularly enjoyed the annual event, calling participating in the gala "one of the perks of the job".

"The arts have always been part of life at the White House because the arts are always central to American life," he said during his last honours weekend in 2016.

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