WASHINGTON -- Washington paid tribute to five legends of American arts this weekend, with screen icon Kirk Douglas, "queen of soul" Aretha Franklin, folk artist Pete Seeger, orchestral composer Morton Gould and Broadway director Harold Prince receiving the 1994 Kennedy Center Honors.
The weekend was a swirl of activity for the honorees and guests, as a mix of the biggest names from film, television, music, stage and government met to schmooze over fine wine and gourmet food at some of the capital's grandest sites.
After a reception with President Clinton at the White House yesterday, the awardees made their way to the Kennedy Center Opera House for the annual gala.
The weekend included a black-tie dinner and awards ceremony for more than 200 guests in the State Department's elegant diplomatic reception rooms Saturday night, where the awardees received the highest honor the government bestows on the nation's artists.
Mr. Douglas arrived at the State Department with his well-known family, including his Academy-Award winning son, Michael, and stage comic son Eric, basking in the warm appreciation from the arts and entertainment community.
"The most special thing is that I have a chance to be here with my sons and grandson," Kirk Douglas said.
Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said Mr. Douglas' induction was long overdue. He toasted the 77-year-old film star as a man who helped break the blacklisting practices in Hollywood during the waning days of the McCarthy era.
While Mr. Douglas helped break the blacklist, Mr. Seeger had a tougher struggle: His name was on it. His urban folk group the Weavers was branded as subversive as Mr. Seeger refused to answer questions about Communist affiliations.
But the influential folk artist maintained a solo career throughout the 1950s, and he was at the forefront of anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s. His songs, which include "If I Had a Hammer," "We Shall Overcome," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," and "Turn, Turn, Turn" became campfire and protest anthems.
"Songs can do more than entertain; they can give people hope," said Mr. Seeger at the Sunday brunch that proceeded that night's gala.
Ms. Franklin, born in 1942 the daughter of a Baptist minister in Detroit, helped turn black gospel-inspired soul into mainstream pop music during the 1960s and '70s with a powerful, emotion-packed voice. Such songs as "Respect," "A Natural Woman" and "Chain of Fools" established Franklin as a legend among female vocalists and a voice in the civil rights movement.
Arriving at the Saturday dinner in a blazing red dress with escort Renauld White, Ms. Franklin said receiving the award was "the pinnacle of my career."
Mr. Prince, who began his directorial career in the 1950s, directed such Broadway hits as "Evita," "Phantom of the Opera" and his 1993 Tony Award-winning "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
"Hal Prince took an art form that was popular, and allowed it to be serious," said George Wolfe, playwright and Broadway director who created "Angels in America." "He allows [theater] to be as complicated as America is."
Mr. Gould, a prolific and versatile composer who has served as president of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the oldest performing rights organization in the world, is best known for his orchestral works for radio, ballet, film and television.
The gala will be broadcast Dec. 28 on CBS.