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One More Award for Rita Moreno

This month, Rita Moreno adds a Kennedy Center Honor to her trophy case.


By Austin Hargrave

December will be a busy month for Rita Moreno. In addition to promoting a new album and kids’ TV show, the acclaimed actor, dancer, and singer will be in Washington, D.C., on December 6 to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, just a few days before her 84th birthday.

The Kennedy Center Honors go to artists whose work has had a major impact on American culture. Moreno’s credits range from silver screen classics (Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story) to Broadway hits (The Ritz) to cutting-edge television (HBO’s Oz). She even won an Emmy Award for dancing with Kermit the Frog on The Muppet Show.

The Berkeley resident will attend the Kennedy Center gala with her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons (and Barack and Michelle Obama), before refocusing on her newest projects: an album of Spanish songs and an animated television show for children.


Q: How did you find out that you would be receiving a Kennedy Center Honor?

A: My manager called me and said, “You’re going to want to sit down for this.” As soon as I heard the news, my heart and soul went straight to Puerto Rico, and I could picture myself as a very young girl, playing with the little coquí, the bright green frogs. And I thought, “How did that little girl do all of this?”


Q: The Kennedy Center honorees don’t perform or give a speech. Instead, artists who have been influenced by the honoree make the presentation. Do you know who will be honoring you?

A: I don’t! It’s absolutely shrouded in mystery, and I am very excited to see what happens. The one thing I have been able to control is the designer of my gown. I wanted to make sure a Latino designer made it, and Narciso Rodriguez is going to do it.


Q: This is the second honor you have received during Obama’s presidency, and you received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. How many presidents have you met?

A: Well, let’s see. Obama. W and his dad. The Clintons. And Ronald Reagan. I think that’s it.


Q: You just released your first album with all Spanish lyrics. What led to this record?

A: People keep asking why it took so long for me to record a Spanish album, and I have to admit that the reason is pretty simple: No one ever asked until now. I’m so pleased with this album. It was very challenging to record because the syncopation is so complex and the music is very soulful. My daughter had an interesting reaction when she first heard the album. She said, “You sing differently in Spanish; it’s much more emotional.”


Q: Nina’s World, your new show on the Sprout network, is reminiscent of your work on The Electric Company. Both shows celebrate creativity and cultural diversity.

A: That’s because the production company showcases diversity in the most wonderful ways. Here’s a perfect example: There is a character on the show named Nico, who is deaf. He is played by a deaf actor—this adorable little boy who reads lips and can sign like a champ. He has never heard a sound in his life, but he speaks clearly enough to voice his character.


Q: It must be particularly satisfying for you to be a part of such a show, after having been typecast for looking “ethnic” in your early years.

A: I am pleased with the progress we have made.


Q: You’ve received the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and now a Kennedy Center Honor. Is there an award that you haven’t received?

A: There’s always the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m still working on that one!


The 2015 Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast December 29 on CBS. Moreno’s new album, Una Vez Mas, is available on amazon.com, and Nina’s World can be seen on NBC’s Sprout network.


Big Nights

When Rita Moreno receives a Kennedy Center Honor, it won’t be her first trip to a major awards show. Here are a few of Moreno’s top honors.

1962: Moreno wins both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for her role as Anita in West Side Story.

1972: The Electric Company album earns Moreno a Grammy for Best Recording for Children.

1975: Moreno wins the Tony for Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for her role in The Ritz.

1977–1978: Moreno wins Emmys for roles on The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files.

2004: George W. Bush awards Moreno the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

2009: Barack Obama awards Moreno the National Medal of Arts.

2013: Moreno receives the Screen Actors Guild’s 50th Life Achievement Award.

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