What better way to celebrate President John F. Kennedy’s 103rd birthday than by watching an original taping of “Revelations,” performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre at the Kennedy Center nearly 60 years ago? Or listening to the inspirational words of our 35th President? The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honors JFK’s birthday with week-long event with the then seven-year-old Yo-Yo Ma, Harry Belafonte, Marian Anderson, and Leonard Bernstein as Master of Ceremonies on Kennedy Center website/YouTube through Sunday, May 31.
When you enter the Kennedy Center Grand Foyer, you can’t miss the magnificent bust of President Kennedy in front of the Opera House. His words can be found throughout the Center, one my favorite inscribed on the walls of the River Terrace. “There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.”
To those of us who love the arts, his words ring true today. “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft,” chiseled on the walls overlooking the Kennedy Center Terrace. “This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor,” from his State of the Union Message in 1963.
The Kennedys made the arts a large part of their life in the White House. He enjoyed listening to show tunes, according to one source, while Jacqueline Kennedy relished classical music, poetry, and the visual arts. Today, it’s Caroline Kennedy who attends (and often hosts) the Kennedy Center Honors Gala.
I have fond memories of looking down at the Presidential Box where members of the Kennedy family could be spotted at the ballet, especially when Rudi Nureyev was dancing. Misha Baryshnikov was another favorite. Oh how I miss those PBS specials from the White House – there hasn’t been one since the Obama years. Remember “Hamilton” before it became famous?
Tune into “Welcome to the Digital Stage” here to watch extraordinary performances from the Center’s archives. For an especially uplifting presentation, “Revelations,” created by the late, great Alvin Ailey should suffice.
Carolyn Kelemen followed James Rouse's dream to Columbia in 1970 and has been writing about local artists for newspapers, magazines, and online ever since. She earned her MFA in dance at Mills College after a long career of performing on stage, in films, and on TV throughout the East Coast. Besides teaching dance at Goucher College and Howard Community College, she formed the Interfaith Housing Ballet Troupe at Slayton House and staged one of the New City's first dance benefits at Merriweather Post Pavilion. In 1999 she won a Howie Award for her support of the arts, and in 2006 she was inducted into the Howard County Women's Hall of Fame for her efforts on behalf of "Columbia Cares," a benefit for people living with HIV/AIDS. The 2017 benefit, "Dancing For Divas," honored Columbia women in the arts. She is the co=producer of "Razzle Dazzle" radio on the HCC Dragon Radio podcasts that showcases local artists. Carolyn is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and Dance Critics of America.