Oprah Winfrey and McCartney top new Kennedy Center Honors

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and former Beatle Paul McCartney top the list of show business luminaries to be saluted for their contributions to U.S. arts and culture at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors.

U.S talk show host Oprah Winfrey speaks to the audience during a special live show at Radio City Music Hall in celebration of O Magazine's 10th anniversary in New York City, May 7, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Rounding out the roster of 2010’s honorees announced by organizers on Tuesday are country music legend Merle Haggard, Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman of “Hello Dolly!” fame, and dancer-choreographer-director Bill T. Jones.

Recipients of the 33rd annual awards will be feted at a December 5 gala event attended by U.S. entertainment and political glitterati at the opera house of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will welcome the honorees to a White House reception. The five recipients will be saluted with tributes and performances by peers at the Kennedy Center later in the evening.

The CBS television network will broadcast the Kennedy Center gala, which has become a highlight of Washington’s cultural calendar, on December 28 as a two-hour special.

“The Kennedy Center celebrates five individuals who have spent their lives enriching, inspiring and elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world,” Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein said in a statement.

The naming of Winfrey, one of the most influential and highly paid women on television, comes as she prepares to end her popular weekday talk show in 2011 after 25 years on the air, to focus on the launch of her own cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, a Los Angeles-based venture she formed with Discovery Communications Inc.

Winfrey, 56, also plans to debut a new evening program called “Oprah’s Next Chapter” she will host from different venues around the globe on OWN.

Her original program, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” is broadcast from Chicago and airs in more than 140 countries. It ranks as the top-rated U.S. daytime talk show.

Although Winfrey’s influence and work extends to motion pictures, books, magazines and live theater, she is one of the few Kennedy Center honorees over the years who made their name primarily in television. Others have included Carol Burnett, Bill Cosby, Johnny Carson and Lucille Ball.

Winfrey’s immediate reaction to being named a Kennedy Center honoree, according to The Washington Post, was: “Wow-zee!”

In a statement of his own, McCartney, 68, paid tribute to the slain U.S. president for whom the Kennedy Center and its annual honors are named.

“President Kennedy was such an icon for us in the Sixties, and his presidency was so inspiring for so many people that it is a great pleasure for this kid from Liverpool to receive this honor,” the singer-songwriter, knighted as Sir Paul, said in a statement.

The Beatles’ first U.S. visit, a few months after Kennedy’s November 1963 assassination, is widely hailed as the start of the so-called “British invasion” that swept America’s pop music scene, changing the face of rock ‘n’ roll and launching a 1960s cultural phenomenon.

Editing by Jerry Norton