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George Lucas, Carole King, 3 others receive Kennedy Center Honors

(L-R) Conductor Seiji Ozawa, actress and singer Rita Moreno, singer-songwriter Carole King, filmmaker George Lucas, and actress and Broadway star Cicely Tyson pose for a group photo following a dinner hosted by United States Secretary of State John F. Kerry in their honor at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, December 5, 2015. | Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool via Getty Images

BY BEN NUCKOLS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks before the release of the new “Star Wars” movie, George Lucas today received the nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in the arts.

Lucas, whose “Star Wars” museum will grace Chicago’s lakefront museum campus in the not too distant future, and four others were celebrated at tonight’s Kennedy Center Honors. Lucas created the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” movie franchises. This year’s other honorees are singer-songwriter Carole King, actress and singer Rita Moreno, conductor Seiji Ozawa and actress Cicely Tyson.

Ozawa served as the first music director of the Ravinia Festival, from 1964-1968. Ravinia is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Ozawa has served as guest conductor with the CSO and has collaborated on several albums with the orchestra.

During a ceremony for the honorees late Sunday afternoon at the White House, Obama said Lucas created films with “timeless themes and cutting-edge technology.”

“Without him, movies would not look as good or sound as good as they do today,” Obama said.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh movie in the franchise and the first made without Lucas’ involvement as director, producer or writer, opens Dec. 18 and is expected to be one of the highest-grossing films in history.

Moreno, a native of Puerto Rico who started dancing at age 9, became the first Latina to win an Academy Award when she was honored for her performance as Anita in “West Side Story.” She’s one of a handful of artists to win an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony, and Obama said she pushed back against Hollywood typecasting.

“She’s still a leading lady of her era, a trailblazer with courage to break through barriers and forge new paths,” Obama said.

Tyson, a longtime star of stage and screen, has said the honor validated her decision to turn down many roles as she tried to find meaningful work as a black woman. At age 90, she’s currently starring on Broadway alongside James Earl Jones in “The Gin Game.”

Ozawa, who was born in China to Japanese parents, began conducting as a teenager in Japan after World War II. He went on to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years.

King was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame nearly 30 years ago for her broad influence on pop music, which helped shape the sounds of the 1960s and 70s. Her compositions include “The Loco-Motion,” ”One Fine Day” and “I’m into Something Good.”

Obama said King’s first solo album, “Tapestry,” was one of the first albums he ever bought; it’s also one of the highest-selling albums of any genre.

“In the world of American music, Carole is royalty,” Obama said.

This marks the 38th year of the Kennedy Center Honors, and the event has new producers for the first time. Stephen Colbert of CBS’ “The Late Show” is hosting the gala for the second consecutive year. It will be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS.

Associated Press; Contributing: Miriam Di Nunzio, Chicago Sun-Times

Note: Chicagoans can get a glimpse into the career of Carole King via “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” playing at the Oriental Theatre, through Feb. 21, 2106.

Posted Dec. 7, 2015.