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Earth Wind and Fire, `Sesame Street’ to receive Kennedy Center Honors

Front row from left, 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees Michael Tilson Thomas, Linda Ronstadt, Sally Field, Joan Ganz Cooney, and Lloyd Morrisett, back row from left, Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, and characters from “Sesame Street,” Abby Cadabby, Big Bird, and Elmo pose for a group photo following the Kennedy Center Honors State Department Dinner at the State Department on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Actress Sally Field, singer Linda Ronstadt and the disco-funk band Earth Wind and Fire awaited their turn in the spotlight Sunday night as part of the latest group of recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievements in the arts.

Also in this year’s class are conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and long-running children’s TV show “Sesame Street.”

Once again, the attendance of President Donald Trump had been an open question until the White House said Friday that neither he nor first lady Melania Trump would attend. Trump skipped the past two celebrations; in 2017, after multiple recipients threatened to boycott the event if he attended.

The Kennedy Center’s president, Deborah Rutter, said in an interview earlier this year that “they are always invited.”

Field, 72, was a television star at age 19 and went on to forge a distinguished career that included two Academy Awards and three Emmys. She starred last year in a Netflix miniseries called “Maniac.”

“Sesame Street” debuted in 1969 and remains a force in children’s educational television. The show now airs new episodes on HBO, and they are rebroadcast months later on the show’s original home, PBS. The co-founders of “Sesame Street,” Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, will accept the award on behalf of the show.

Hours before the ceremony, the Sesame Workshop announced that Caroll Spinney, who gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on “Sesame Street,” died Sunday at the age of 85 at his home in Connecticut.

Ronstadt was one of the faces of American music in the 1970s and 1980s, landing on the cover of Time magazine in 1977. In 2011, she announced her retirement from singing, citing the advancing effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Tilson Thomas, who has served as music director of the San Francisco Symphony for the past 24 years, has become particularly renowned for his interpretations of the entire works of Gustav Mahler.

Earth, Wind and Fire was originally formed in Chicago by lead singer Maurice White. The group drew elements from rhythm and blues, funk, and disco in a flashy crowd-pleasing mix that spawned eight No. 1 hits. Songs such as “September” and “Shining Star” remain in heavy rotation for both radio station programmers and wedding DJs.

Each recipient was to be honored with a personalized presentation that in the past has in included surprise guests. Last year, Cher was shocked to find her friend Cyndi Lauper walking onstage to deliver a tribute; Lauper had said she would be out of town.

The event will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 15.

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