Kennedy Center hosts star-studded 50th anniversary concert

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Kennedy Center 50th anniversary concert (Part 1)

The Kennedy Center is celebrating 50 years of art and culture in the nation’s capital.

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, it’s hosting a special “50th Anniversary Celebration Concert” at 8 p.m.

“We’re trying to talk about all of the things the Kennedy Center has accomplished in the last 50 years,” Emmy-winning Director Joshua Bergasse told WTOP.

“The different genres of music and performance, whether it’s classical, Broadway, jazz or more contemporary things like a TikTok musical, hip-hop and all of these wonderful, different genres.”

The program will echo Leonard Bernstein’s “An American Pageant for the Arts,” a 1962 fundraiser hosted by John F. Kennedy at the D.C. Armory to raise money for his proposed National Cultural Center that would eventually become the Kennedy Center in 1971.

“We have a lot of Bernstein in the program in honor of that 1962 event,” Bergasse said.

“The piece I’m choreographing is the second-act pas de deux from ‘On the Town.’ … It’s a beautiful section of music played by the entire NSO. The dancers are from [American Ballet Theatre]. I choreographed the most recent Broadway revival back in 2014.”

The event will be hosted by six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, featuring appearances by special guests Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and her daughter Ms. Rose Schlossberg.

Performing are Common, Renée Fleming, Ben Folds, Punch Brothers, Keb’ Mo’, Christian McBride, Rachael Price, Darren Chris, Herman Cornejo, Randall Goosby, Cassandra Trenary, Tony Yazbeck, Abigail Barlow, Emily Bear, Ray Chen, Robert Glasper, Joshua Henry, Bettye LaVette, Kelli O’Hara, Gaby Moreno, Kelly Marie Tran, Zhu Wang and Mo Willems.

“We have such an amazing lineup,” Bergasse said. “Most of the artists don’t arrive until the day of or the day before, so it’s all about preparation. How do we make sure it’s planned within an inch of its life so that when the artists arrive we are completely prepared?”

The National Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by JoAnn Falletta, Steven Reineke and Thomas Wilkins.

“It’s going to have a flow, it’s going to a have a story,” Bergasse said. “If you don’t know that much about the Kennedy Center, its mission and history over the last 50 years, when you get to the end of this concert you’ll understand a lot more about what it stands for.”

The concert also marks a reopening of live indoor events at the Kennedy Center.

“I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to be working again, especially on a project like this, something so important,” Bergasse said.

“This is the announcement of not just the Kennedy Center but that the arts are coming back. Many of us have been starved for live art and live performance. I think we’ve forgotten how much it means to us and inspires us.”

The Kennedy Center requires proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Masks are required indoors, except when eating or drinking in designation areas.

If you can’t make it to the performance, the concert will air Oct. 1 on PBS.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Kennedy Center 50th anniversary concert (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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