Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kennedy Center Disgraces (2010 edition)

(Warning: No real political content here -- I usually try to keep myself out of Plain Blog except for the baseball posts, but once in a while, I make an exception.  Indeed, this is just updated and lightly edited from last year's complaint.  Rant follows:)

The new Kennedy Center Honors list is out. Now, granted, there's no reason anyone should care about the Kennedy Center Honors, but nevertheless...

This year's popular music honoree is Paul McCartney.  Well, sure...I'd rather that they take care of the Americans first, but he is Paul McCartney.  You can't argue with that.  Last year it was Bruce Springsteen. No doubt that Springsteen is deserving, too as was Diana Ross in 2007, Smokey Robinson in 2006, and Tina Turner in 2005. That's fine; they've making their way through the 1960s and 1970s, and fair enough.

However.  Here's the list of original rock'n'rollers who have received the Kennedy Center Honors:

Ray Charles
Chuck Berry

That's it. Now, it can't be helped that Buddy Holly died long ago, and that Elvis Presley was gone just before the Honors opened for business in 1978 (and long before they noticed rock-era performers with Charles in 1986). Fine. But: notice anyone missing?

Where's Little Richard?

(For that matter, where's Fats Domino? Jerry Lee Lewis? If Perry Como rates...well, granted, if Perry Como rates, why not the Everly Brothers, Danny & the Juniors, and plenty of others, but still, Fats Domino and the Killer are pretty damn important).

I have no inside information here; I suppose it wouldn't shock me if they had offered it to Little Richard and he turned them down flat. But I've been following this for over a decade, and there's never been any reporting to that effect, and he showed up in 1993 and 2000, apparently, to take part in the festivities for others.

Little Richard is a more important figure in American culture than Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Elton John, or Tina Turner, or, as much as I think he's great, Smokey Robinson. He wasn't greater than the other rock-era nominees (Bob Dylan, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and the Who), but he certainly preceded them.  Paul McCartney?  Without Little Richard, there's no "I'm Down", no "I Saw Her Standing There", no "Oh! Darling." 

I mean, I'm not asking them to celebrate the careers of Bob Mould or KRS-One or Andy Partridge (at least, not yet). This is Little Richard. C'mon! What's the hold up?!?


  1. Jonathan -

    You're old!

  2. I'd be a little more worked up about this slight had it been a shutout thrown by the Rock 'n' Roll HoF, but it's not. Just the KCH, which does a fair job of trying to include all the major arts, which is quite a bit of ground to cover, and inevitably there will be oversights, as with LR.

    That said, I'm not sure the world would be a poorer place for not having "I Saw Her Standing There" or even "Oh Darling", but it definitely would be without the rollicking ditty "I'm Down", an underrated masterpiece that the Beatles performed energetically on the baseball diamond, John playing organ à la LR with elbow, at Shea Stadium 1965.

  3. And, although it's not really relevant now, Carl Perkins lived until 1998...where were the KCH for him? (At least they managed to get to Johnny Cash in 1996...)

  4. Little Richard made a cameo appearance in "Catalina Caper" -- automatic disqualifier.

    My fave MST3K episode, EVAH, but still . . .


  5. Little Richard well deserves this honor. A facebook page has been created to strike up awareness. Please give him this honor. What is more sad is that they are giving the honor to Oprah.

  6. Little Richard may be more deserving than Tina Turner, but he doesn't have a stronger claim than Ike Turner, who arguably authored the first rock and roll song of all time. Ike became an unsavory character of course, and it is much more acceptable to praise Tina. If you think of honoring her as a proxy for honoring him though, I think putting her ahead just about anyone other than Elvis is perfectly fine.

    Ike's story is sort of funny in a way. Chuck Berry is not someone you would want around your family and Jerry Lee Lewis is not someone you would want around your teenage girls, but somehow their exploits never tarnished their brands as much as Ike's did. To draw a political analogy, Newt Gringrich has benefited from not being associated with a Saint Elizabeth character even though he is just as scummy as John Edwards. If Ike had battered someone who was not famous and beloved, his status in the rock firmament would be assured.


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