Story
I

HONORING
PERFORMING ARTISTS

THOSE WHo

STOOD THE

TEST OF TIME

George Stevens, Jr. has devoted a good deal of his career to heralding and celebrating artistic work of quality and excellence that has enriched the nation’s cultural identity. For five decades, he has masterfully told the stories and shined the spotlight on hundreds of notable figures whose lifetime achievements in American cinema and culture have enhanced our national life and cultural traditions.
He envisioned and created the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and The National Sports Awards — three prestigious forms of national recognition that honor those whose work has stood the test of time.
"It grew from the idea instilled in me by my father that the important films were the ones that stood the test of time.

If there was religion in our family, it was this idea of quality and excellence."
George Stevens, Jr.
My Place in the Sun
AFI Life Achievement Award
James Cagney accepts the Award in 1974

Kennedy Center Honors

George Stevens, Jr. conceived the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978 as an annual celebration to honor artists for their significant contributions to American culture through the performing arts. His vision was kindled, in part, by John F. Kennedy’s hope that one day the nation would reward achievement in the arts as it does for achievement in business or statecraft. The Honors has been presented annually since 1978 in a star-filled performance at the Kennedy Center Opera House. 
Heart performs Stairway to Heaven
2012: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
The Kennedy Center Honors remind us anything is possible. Watching artists be recognized on such a grand scale renews belief in the arts and ourselves. Above all, we’re given a sense of hope that our own hard work and talents can make a positive difference in the world around us.
CBS News
2014
The last bit even drew a tear from my cold eyes.
Katharine Hepburn
1990 Kennedy Center Honors recipient
I look forward to an America that won’t be afraid of grace and beauty . . . which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.
President John F. Kennedy
Amherst College, October 26, 1963
Listen to the speech
President John F. Kennedy at Amherst College
1963, Photo credit:  Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
Kennedy Center Honors
Jessye Norman sings Amazing Grace (Sidney Poitier Tribute) | 1995
Story
I
More stories

memoir

Patrick McGilligan
Author, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light
Get the book
Next story
II

ServiNG the Nation

Go to the Story
Built by Airnauts