Also saluted at the gala performance on December 4 were actress Julie Harris; actor, director, and producer Robert Redford; and rhythm and blues singer Tina Turner.
The honors, which recognize lifetime achievement in the performing arts, were officially presented at a State Department dinner on December 3. The following day, the honorees were feted at a White House ceremony, the gala performance at the Kennedy Center Opera House, and a supper dance in the center's Grand Foyer.
In addition to the five honorees, tonight's broadcast will include appearances by jazz singer Diana Krall, dancer Arthur Mitchell, and other performing artists. Carolyn Kennedy, the daughter of former president John F. Kennedy, for whom the center is named, is the host.
"We honor five extraordinary American artists whose unique and abundant contributions to our culture have transformed our lives," Kennedy Center chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman said in announcing the honorees earlier this year.
"Tony Bennett is a brilliant musician and singer's singer whom even the great Frank Sinatra called the best there is; Suzanne Farrell's profound artistry has inspired the creation of masterpieces and is teaching ballet to a new generation; for half a century, the enchanting Julie Harris has been one of this country's most acclaimed and revered actors; Robert Redford is an actor/director whose extraordinary support of independent film has had an immeasurable impact on filmmakers and audiences alike; and Tina Tuner's sizzling talent and indomitable spirit has made her one of the world's best-loved entertainers."
Farrell joined New York City Ballet at the age of 16 and spent much of her 28-year career as a dancer there; George Balanchine created many roles for her. After retiring from the stage, she became a teacher. Since 2000, she has directed Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which performs annually at the Kennedy Center. This year, she was widely praised for her revival of Balanchine's Don Quixote.
Bennett first came to prominence with a series of pop hits in the early 1950s. By the end of the decade, he had shifted toward a Sinatraesque jazz style; in the '60s, he enjoyed continued success with albums of standards and Broadway songs. His popularity cooled in the 1970s, but grew again in the late 1980s, driven by the swing revival. Over the last 15 years, he has had a series of major hits, some of them featuring duets with pop singers, and has become an omnipresent cultural icon.