On Tuesday, December 30th, the Kennedy Center Honors will be televised. We know the names of the Honorees. I thought it would be interesting to find whether these individuals were influenced to become the artists they are today by their schooling. I also looked at the 2013 Honorees.
While information about schools is a bit sketchy, there is one thing that stands out among these artists. Most showed creative promise early in their lives. I can’t help but wonder how many talented students are disregarded in today’s drill-and-kill, high-stakes, standardized Common Core classrooms with schools that lack decent programs for the arts.
By the way, nowhere did I find any information or praise that the Honorees got good test scores. While many of them probably did do well…who cares? It is the acting people want to see, the comedy that makes one laugh, the music that is soothing or exciting to hear, and the ballet that is mesmerizing to watch.
Isn’t it the responsibility of a good school to help identify and nurture talent? Shouldn’t the arts be every bit as important as science, math and English/language arts?
Schools must also take time to understand the problems children face outside of school, so they can lend extra support. When students, including those with behavior problems, are regarded as lazy because no one has taken the time to identify what they really can do talent wise, we all lose.
Think about the future Kennedy Center Honors, and the beauty of the arts for all to enjoy. Who is being left out today due to insufficient or missing art programs? We must help bring out the best of the arts in our students and not ignore future potential.
Al Green attended Franklin Elementary School in Grand Rapids where he found his voice through the assistance of a kind choir director. It is said that “he found joy.” While schools should be places where children will work on challenging assignments, won’t they learn faster and better if they find joy in what they are doing? This came from an article out of Grand Rapids called “Al Green’s Grand Rapid’s Upbringing made him Part Preacher, Part Soul Singer and All Joy,” The Grand Rapids Press. June 19, 2012. It is still unclear where Al Green went to high school. I think it was Memphis, or possibly Arkansas. He is said to have created a vocal group when he was a teen called Al Green & the Creations.
Tom Hanks acted in school plays while attending Oakland, California’s Skyline High School. When Hanks won the 1994 Academy Award he thanked his high school drama instructor Rawley Farnsworth saying, “He gave me an instinctive joy of performing.” Hanks took all of Farnsworth’s classes. There is more HERE, including a quote by Hanks in honor of his teacher and mention of the generous contribution Hanks gave to renovate the high school theater, naming it after Mr. Farnsworth.
I could find little about the influence of McBride’s early schooling on her ballet career, she took private lessons, but by the age of 14 she received a scholarship to move to New York City to attend the George Ballanchine’s School of American Ballet. She progressed in her talent quickly. She said, “I never dreamed that I could be a professional and make a career out of it, I just knew it was something I loved.”
Sting attended a Catholic school, St. Cuthbert’s Grammar School in the UK, and it is said he developed an early love for music. He would listen to his mother play Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes on the piano. He also became obsessed with an old Spanish guitar. Sting is known to “defy categorization” with his music and sings Portuguese and Spanish.
Lily Tomlin attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit. The magnet school is still well regarded. Wayne State University, where Tomlin went to college, is given credit for helping her establish her acting career. With all Tomlin’s credits, it is interesting she also won an award for being the voice of Miss Frizzle on the acclaimed science program for children, The Magic School Bus. It is interesting to see how actors often give back to the education of young people.
Martina Arroyo sang as a child in the church choir and later attended Hunter College High School, a public magnet school for gifted students. Later she studied to be a teacher at Hunter College. In 1958 she won the chance to attend music and acting at the Met’s Kathryn Long School. Her first major break came when she was offered a contract to join the Zurich Opera as a principal soprano. Along with her singing, as a teacher, and with her work for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Martina Arroyo Foundation, she gives back to others.
Herbie Hanock learned jazz in high school by listening. He began as a classical prodigy playing with the Chicago Symphony at age 11. He graduated from Grinnell College with a degree in music and electrical engineering.
Billy Joel attended Hicksville High School. He was a strong student in school, but he helped his mother make ends meet by playing at a piano bar. This left him short of credits for graduation. It is said that he declared, “I told them, ‘to hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records and you don’t need a high school diploma over there.” Joel later got his diploma. Last April, Billy Joel surprised students at an elementary school on Long Island when he showed up at a concert that was a tribute to his music.
Shirley MacLaine attended Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Virginia, acting in school theatrical productions. Her mother enrolled her in ballet when she was 3 years old, and MacLaine loved to dance although she worried about being too tall.
Carlos Santana attended James Lick Middle School and Mission High School in San Francisco. He learned to play two instruments at an early age–the violin when he was five and the guitar when he was eight. Carlos was accepted at California State University, Northridge and Humboldt State Universities but turned down those offers.
If you would like to add to the descriptions above, or if something is incorrect, please let me know.