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Kennedy Center to Salute McCartney

Former Beatle will be recognized for contributions to American culture

August 1, 2002 12:00 AM ET

Paul McCartney will be among five people to receive this year's Kennedy Center Honors, which recognize artists for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. Actors Elizabeth Taylor, James Earl Jones and Chita Rivera, and Metropolitan Opera artistic director James Levine will also be honored.

The twenty-fifth annual honors will take place on December 7th at a State Department dinner in Washington, D.C., hosted by Secretary of State Colin Powell. On December 8th, the honorees will be celebrated at a gala performance in the Kennedy Center's Opera House, to be attended by President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, as well as various artists. CBS will broadcast the event at a later date.

Announcing McCartney and Levine, Kennedy Center Chairman James A. Johnson described the musicians as deserving of the honor, "For the unique and extremely valuable contributions they have made to the cultural life of our nation" and described McCartney as "one of the most prolific and influential songwriters of our era."

Past musical honorees include Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry and Quincy Jones.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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