More than 50 years after it debuted on PBS, “Sesame Street” will become the first-ever TV series to receive a Kennedy Center Honor.
On Thursday, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts released its list of 2019 honorees, which includes the beloved children’s program, as well as entertainment veterans Earth, Wind & Fire, Linda Ronstadt, Sally Field and American conductor (and San Francisco Symphony’s music director) Michael Tilson Thomas.
Since its inception in 1978, the Kennedy Center Honors have celebrated musicians, musical groups, movie stars and even TV stars — but never a TV show, until now.
“On behalf of Sesame Workshop, we are deeply grateful to receive this distinguished award from the Kennedy Center,” Joan Ganz Cooney and Dr. Lloyd Morrisett, co-founders of the show’s nonprofit Sesame Workshop, said in a joint statement.
“Fifty years ago, we set out to see if the powerful medium of television could be used to teach young children and help them arrive at school ready to learn. We never imagined that we would be creating the longest street in the world, reaching hundreds of millions of children,” they added.
The series, which currently runs on HBO, has introduced kids to friendly muppets like Elmo, Cookie Monster, Big Bird — and even the not-so-friendly Oscar the Grouch — who teach young viewers fundamental lessons on everything from science to kindness. Hailed as the first preschool program to combine education and entertainment, the show continues to present its fans with new ideas through more recent character additions like Julia, who made her “Sesame Street” debut in 2017 as its only muppet with autism.
The Kennedy honor coincides with “Sesame Street” marking its 50th anniversary this year with celebrations across the country, including a festival in Los Angeles next month.
Over the years, the program has also welcomed the teaching help of many celebrity guests, including fellow forthcoming Kennedy Center Honorees Ronstadt and Field. Ronstadt, Field and the series will collect their awards at the ceremony Dec. 8 — and, no, Big Bird will not be accepting the trophy. Cooney and Morrisett will take the Kennedy Center Opera House stage on behalf of the show and its creator, the late Jim Henson.
“This honor is a testament to all who helped create Sesame Street and those who continue to help us carry out our mission to help children everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder,” Cooney and Morrisett said.
A telecast of the 42nd Kennedy Center Honors will air on CBS on Dec. 15.