Carol Channing deserves a Kennedy Center Honor
It’s time for a Broadway legend to be recognized for her hard work.
Carol Channing, America’s Dolly Levi, deserves a Kennedy Center Honor.
The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded annually for exemplary lifetime achievement in the performing arts.
Last year’s Kennedy Center honorees were Buddy Guy, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova and the rock band Led Zeppelin.
In her introduction to the 2012 Kennedy Center award ceremony, host Caroline Kennedy said, “Tonight we salute honorees who, through their artistry and daring, have banished monotony and provided extravagant pleasure and joy to audiences the world over.”
That statement applies to the much beloved Carol Channing, who turned 92 this year. An entertainment icon, Carol first wowed audiences in 1949, as Lorelei Lee in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1964, she became a huge sensation as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! which became her signature role. The show ran on Broadway for years, and in order not to disappoint fans, Carol never missed a performance.
Carol’s wide-eyed personality and vivacious sense of humor made her a sought after guest on many TV shows. She won Tony Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and was even nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
In 2004, Carol became an advocate for arts education. With her husband and childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian (who died in December 2011), she created a foundation to support arts education for children in public schools.
I got the chance to meet and talk with Carol and Harry at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April 2011. Although she was recovering from health problems, Carol flew in specially to attend a screening of the documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, which had made its debut at the festival the week before. (Photos from that event).
Carol and Harry spoke to me about a number of things, including their disappointment that schools were cutting music and arts programs due to budgetary constraints. Harry said arts were important because learning how to play an instrument or performing in a play required children to use different parts of their brains than academics required. Carol said if it hadn’t been for arts programs when she was growing up, she didn’t know what would have become of her. Their utter devotion and commitment to keeping arts alive for the next generation was emotional and moving.
Below, in this short 2009 video clip by Rob VanAlkemade, Carol and her husband Harry address the arts at a meeting of the Executive Committee for CA County School Superintendents. To make her point, as only Carol can, she sang a special song, The Show Must Go On, written by her neighbor John Wyatt:
The future’s at stake. Just give kids the chance, and you will see one day their skills will advance… Let’s keep the arts alive, let’s keep young hearts alive, because the show must go on.
The Kennedy Center can now do its part in keeping the arts alive. Entertainer Richard Skipper has started a petition asking the Kennedy Center to recognize Carol Channing’s lifetime achievement by awarding her a Kennedy Center Honor in 2013. Time is of the essence, so please support this worthwhile cause and join me by signing this petition now at change.org. Thank you.