Justino Diaz Among This Year’s Kennedy Center Honors Recipients

It’s an Honors of a lifetime for Justino Diaz.

The 81-year-old Puerto Rican operatic bass-baritone is among the recipients of the Kennedy Center’s Kennedy Center Honors this year, as the organization plans to return the ceremony to its traditional time and format in December.

Justino Diaz

In 1963, Díaz won an annual contest held at the Metropolitan Opera of New York, becoming the first Puerto Rican to obtain such an honor and as a consequence, made his Metropolitan debut in October 1963 in Verdi‘s Rigoletto as Monterone.

Diaz’s big roles throughout his career were in the operas of Mozart, taking on the title role of Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro a total of 27 times in his Met career.

He was also a renowned Scarpia and Iago in his time. He was famously picked by Franco Zeffirelli to take on the villain in his film version of Verdi’s final tragic masterwork; Scarpia was the last role he sang on the Met stage.

In addition to Diaz, the recipients for the December 5 event will be singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, actress and singer Bette MidlerSaturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, and Motown Record founder and producer Berry Gordy.

CBS will broadcast the 44th annual ceremony, and it will be live streamed on Paramount+ and available on demand.

The Kennedy Center Honors traditionally takes place in the first weekend of December, with events at the White House and the State Department preceding the ceremony at the Kennedy Center Opera House. But because of Covid-19, the most recent honors were postponed until May this year, with the ceremony spread out over several days with a mix of indoor and outdoor events, some in person and some pre-taped. Instead of a White House reception, President Joe Biden had a smaller gathering of the honorees.

In a statement, Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said, “After the challenges and heartbreak of the last many months, and as we celebrate 50 years of the Kennedy Center, I dare add that we are prepared to throw ‘the party to end all parties’ in D.C. on Dec. 5th, feting these extraordinary people and welcoming audiences back to our campus.”

Alexis Valdés to Star in HBO’s Limited Series “The White House Plumbers”

Alexis Valdés has landed a plum(ber) role…

The 57-year-old Cuban actor and comedian will star in The White House Plumbers, HBO’s five-part limited series that revisits Watergate, one of the biggest political scandals in American history.

Alexis Valdés

Valdés will star alongside Corbin Bernsen, Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux.

The series, now in production, hails from Veep executive producers Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck, David Mandel and Frank Rich.

Created and written by Gregory and Huyck and directed by Mandel, White House Plumbers is based part on public records and the book Integrity by Egil Bud Krogh and Matthew Krogh. It tells the true story of how Richard Nixon’s own political saboteurs and Watergate masterminds, E. Howard Hunt (Harrelson) and G. Gordon Liddy (Theroux), accidentally toppled the presidency they zealously were trying to protect.

Bernsen will play Richard Kleindienst, the Harvard-educated attorney general that is tainted by the ITT scandal and a contentious confirmation process. He refuses to use his power to shield the Plumbers from investigators.

Valdés plays Felipe De Diego, a Cuban-American real estate broker and yachtsman who participates in every Plumbers operation except the one which ends in their arrest.

Harrelson and Theroux executive produce White House Plumbers with Gregory, Huyck and Mandel. The limited series is a co-production between HBO and wiip.

Valdés’ previous credits include El juicio del PDO, Con Cariñito and 90 millas.

Huascar Medina Nominated for Membership on National Council on the Arts

Huascar Medina may soon be joining the National Council on the Arts.

The Latino poet, writer, and performer, Kansas’ first Latino Poet Laureate, is among President Joe Biden’s intended nominees for the council.

Huascar Medina

The eight-person list, posted on the White House website, also includes choreographer and educator Christopher Morgan, executive producer of Harlem’s Apollo Theater Kamilah Forbes, the president of John Prine’s Oh Boy Records (and widow of the late folk music icon) Fiona Whelan Prine, and ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro.

Medina has worked as a freelance copywriter and as the Literary Editor for seveneightfive magazine publishing stories that spotlight literary and artistic events in northeast Kansas. His poems can be found in his collection How to Hang the Moon published by Spartan Press. He’s the winner of ARTSConnect’s 2018 Arty Award for Literary Art. His new collection of poems Un Mango Grows in Kansas is available at huascarmedina.com.

The National Council on the Arts was established in 1965, with members appointed by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate for staggered six-year terms, advises the National Endowment for the Arts on agency policies and programs, and reviews and makes recommendations on applications for grants, funding guidelines, and leadership initiatives. If approved, Biden’s nominees will join other members serving now.

Biden’s roster of nominees is:

  • Kamilah Forbes, executive producer at the Apollo Theater. A veteran stage director and producer, Forbes’ Broadway credits include The Mountaintop and Stick Fly, as well as Off Broadway’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, written by two-time Pulitzer prize-winning writer Lynn Nottage, among others. She served as  associate director on the Tony Award-winning A Raisin in the Sun, and Emmy Award-winning The Wiz Live for NBC. Most recently, she directed Between the World and Me on HBO and HBO Max in November 2020. Forbes is set to direct a Broadway musical adaptation of Soul Train alongside producer Questlove, playwright Dominique Morisseau, and choreographer Camille A. Brown;
  • Christopher Morgan, choreographer, educator, facilitator, curator, and arts administrator. Morgan is Executive Artistic Director of Dance Place in Washington, D.C., and has directed Art Omi: Dance, an annual collaborative residency for international choreographers in New York;
  • Ismael Ahmed, co-founder of The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and co-founder of Detroit’s world music festival Concert of Colors;
  • Kinan Azmeh, artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Players, a pan-Arab ensemble dedicated to contemporary music form the Arab world;
  • Huascar Medina, the 7th Poet Laureate of Kansas. He currently works with the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission reimagining and developing innovative programming for the poet laureateship;
  • Jake Shimabukuro, the world-famous ukulele player who, in 2001, signed a historic deal with Epic Records/Sony Music that formed the basis of a string of hit albums and standing room audiences. He has played with world-renowned orchestras and at prestigious venues and events such as the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center, and Sydney Opera House, Bonnaroo, SXSW and Fuji Rock Festival;
  • Constance Williams, who, with a background in publishing, marketing, and small business and financial consulting, was the economic development and small business coordinator for Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District. She has served as the Chair of the Board of The Philadelphia Museum of Art and is now Chair Emerita, and was also a trustee of the National Museum of American Jewish History;
  • Fiona Whelan Prine, President of Oh Boy Records, the country’s second-oldest independent record label still in operation. Prine oversees the multiple Grammy Award-winning recordings and publishing copyrights of her late husband, American songwriter John Prine, and serves as Founder and President of the newly established Hello in There Foundation, named after a classic song written by her late husband. In the last year alone, her community involvement has raised more than $1 million for important social causes, including those related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Auli’i Cravalho to Perform at PBS’ Televised Independence Day Celebration “A Capitol Fourth”

Auli’i Cravalho is embracing the independence

The 20-year-old part-Puerto Rican actress/singer will perform at this year’s Independence Day celebration A Capitol Fourth, which will feature a pre-taped concert and live fireworks from Washington, D.C.

Auli’i Cravalho

The city has lifted almost all COVID-19 restrictions, and President Joe Biden is planning an event at the White House that day, his goal for having at least 70% of the country with at least one COVID-19 shot.

But producers have been planning the show for months, with COVID-19 forcing them to set aside the traditional live concert on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

In addition to Cravalho, others who will perform at the event are Jimmy Buffett, Cynthia Erivo, Alan Jackson, Pentatonix, Jennifer Nettles, Train, Gladys Knight, Mickey Guyton, Ali Stroker, Jimmie Allen and Laura Osnes.

The National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jack Everly, will perform John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare, honoring U.S. participation in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games. The orchestra and the Joint Armed Forces Chorus will accompany the fireworks with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

Vanessa Williams will host the event, with Renee Fleming set to open the show with the National Anthem. The concert will honor men and women of the military, with other participants including the U.S. Army BandPershing’s Own,” the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The Joint Armed Forces Chorus and The Armed Forces Color Guard provided by the Military District of Washington, D.C.

The concert, a co-production of Michael Colbert of Capital Concerts and WETA-TV, will air on July 4 from 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm ET on PBS, and it also will be broadcast to the American Forces Network. NPR stations also will air the event, and it will be streamed on Facebook, YouTube and PBS.org through July 18.

Cravalho rose to acclaim as the voice of the title character in Disney’s computer animated musical Moana. Her other credits include NBC’s Rise and Netflix’s drama film All Together Now.

Manny Mua Interviews Joe Biden About COVID-19 Vaccine

Manny Mua is helping the White House encourage people to get vaccinated…

The 30-year-old Latino make-up artist, YouTuber, entrepreneur and beauty blogger, whose real name is Manuel Gutierrez Jr.,

Manny Mua

The White House has tapped YouTube stars, including the 30-year-old Latino make-up artist, YouTuber, entrepreneur and beauty blogger, for COVID-19 vaccine messaging, as Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci appear in new videos released as part of a virtual town hall in an effort to reach young audiences unsure or hesitant to get the shots.

Manny Mua, whose real name is Manuel Gutierrez Jr., conducted an interview with President Jo Biden, in which he asks about the rumors of a vaccine passport needed to travel or to go to concerts.

“Federally, we are not going to have any mandate, and we don’t keep records, federally, of people who have gotten the vaccine,” Biden said. He said that the rumor of vaccine passports “just plays into paranoia in some people, in particular young people. That is just not the case.”

Manny Mua also asked Biden that if he were stranded on a desert island, and he could only bring one skincare product, what would it be?

“I happen to be Irish, and I think my wife before I headed to the island would tell me, you better bring some sunscreen,” Biden said.

Others appearing in the videoes include the stars of Brave Wilderness, hosted by Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson and Mark Vins, who have an outdoor adventure channel, and Jackie Aina.

Ana Cabrera to Anchor CNN’s “CNN Newsroom” During the Week

Ana Cabrera is expanding her role at CNN

The cable news network has announced changes to its weekday morning and dayside lineup, with the 38-year-old Mexican American broadcast journalist joining the roster.

Ana Cabrera

Cabrera, who has anchored CNN’s weekend newscasts for the last four years, will now anchor CNN Newsroom weekdays from 1:00 – 2:00 pm.

The news network also unveiled new roles for Jim Acosta and Boris Sanchez on weekends, with all changes effective in April.

Sanchez will join Christi Paul as co-anchor of Weekend New Day on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Sanchez previously served as a CNN White House correspondent.

Acosta will anchor CNN Newsroom on Saturdays and Sundays from 3:00 – 6:00 pm. Acosta had previously been named the network’s chief domestic correspondent. Prior to this new role, he covered the White House for CNN for the past seven years, having served as Chief White House Correspondent since 2018.

Jim Acosta Named Weekend Anchor/Chief Domestic Correspondent for CNN

Jim Acosta will be working on the weekend…

CNN announced a series of changes to its Washington, D.C. lineup, including a new role for the 49-year-old half-Cuban American journalist.

Jim Acosta

Acosta will switch to a new role from chief White House correspondent to anchor and chief domestic correspondent for the network, with more details on his weekend anchoring duties to be announced.

Acosta tweeted about the changes.

“On to the next adventure! After eight years at WH, I’m moving into a new role as anchor on weekends and chief domestic correspondent for @CNN, a new challenge I’m very excited about. Will miss my WH colleagues. But I know they’ll be great covering the Biden admin. See you soon!”

Meanwhile, Arlette Saenz will serve as a correspondent covering the White House.

Monica Alba to Serve on NBC News’ White House Coverage Team

Monica Alba is heading to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Latina political reporter is joining NBC NewsWhite House team for coverage of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

Monica Alba

Alba covered President Donald Trump and the 2020 campaign. For the first two years of the Trump administration, she worked as a White House producer, traveling extensively with the president domestically and overseas.

Prior to that, Alba followed Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail as an embedded reporter for 18 months. And before the 2016 election, she was an associate producer in the NBC Investigative Unit in New York City.

Alba joins a team that includes Peter Alexander and Kristen Welker, who will serve as chief White House correspondents, and Geoff Bennett and Kelly O’Donnell, who will continue to serve as White House correspondents.

Correspondents Mike Memoli and Carol Lee also will continue in their roles covering Biden and politics.

Hallie Jackson, who had been chief White House correspondent, will take on a new role as senior Washington correspondent. She’ll continue to anchor the 10 a.m. hour on MSNBC, and plans are in the works for a new show on NBC News Now, which streams on Peacock.

NBC News president Noah Oppenheim announced the changes in a memo to employees.

Meanwhile, Andrea Mitchell, who has been chief foreign affairs correspondent, also will take on the title of chief Washington correspondent.

Shannon Pettypiece will continue to serve as senior digital White House reporter, and she’ll be joined by politics reporter Lauren Egan, who will cover breaking news.

Xavier Becerra Emerges as Contender to Lead Department of Health and Human Services

Xavier Becerra could be heading to The District in the coming year…

The 62-year-old Mexican American politician and current California Attorney General has emerged as a key contender to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, according to sources familiar with the process, as President-elect Joe Biden weighs who to tap for a role that will be critical to his administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Xavier Becerra

The HHS secretary position has been a source of intrigue and confusion this week, with New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo being mentioned as contenders. Raimondo has said she’s no longer a candidate and Lujan Grisham’s status is now unclear.

 

But on Friday people close to the matter said Becerra has emerged as a “contender of interest” for the post. He’s also a top candidate for attorney general.

 

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has also been mentioned as a potential pick to lead Health and Human Services, but the sources said she is being eyed for other posts as well.

 

News of Becerra’s emergence comes as Biden faces increasing pressure to deliver on his promise to build out a diverse Cabinet. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has said it wants Lujan Grisham to be Biden’s HHS secretary and has pushed Biden to select Becerra or Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez as attorney general. Members of the caucus expressed frustration in a meeting with leaders of Biden’s transition team on Thursday over how they believe Lujan Grisham has been treated in the Cabinet selection process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Friday that the transition team will announce key members of the President-elect’s health team early next week.

 

Selena Gomez to Receive Arts Award During This Year’s Hispanic Heritage Awards

Selena Gomez is being recognized for representin’…

The 28-year-old Mexican American singer will receive the Arts Award during the 33rd Hispanic Heritage Awards, which will air on October 6 on PBS stations and streamed on PBS.org.

Selena Gomez

At the same ceremony, Bad Bunny will receive the Vision Award, and actress Jessica Alba will receive the Business Award for her entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there won’t be a live ceremony. The PBS special will feature filmed performances from across the U.S. and Latin America.

The awards were created by the White House in 1987 and commemorate the establishment of Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S.

Jose Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, said in a statement that he is “thrilled to recognize Selena Gomez with the Arts Award for her impact on American and global culture through her music [and] movies but also for her courage as an advocate for mental health.”

In April of this year, Gomez revealed that she has bipolar disorder. She has discussed her condition in several interviews.

In his statement, Tijerino praised Gomez’s courage in opening up about her mental health challenges.

“There’s power in vulnerability and Selena has made it okay to talk about difficult issues we all deal with, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Selena is a role model for so many for so many reasons.”

Gomez has been a pop star for more than a decade, first as the leader of Selena Gomez & the Scene, and since 2013 as a solo artist. All three of her solo studio albums, Stars Dance, Revival and Rare, have reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

In November 2019, Lose You to Love Me” became her first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.