Fulbright Alum Renée Fleming Named Kennedy Center Honoree

Renée Fleming, Fulbrighter to Germany, was one of five outstanding artists to receive the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements at the 46th annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony on December 3, 2023, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. David M. Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center Chairman, said Fleming was selected because as "America’s soprano," she captivates "audiences worldwide with her luminous voice, incomparable artistry, and a knack for bringing opera into the mainstream."  The event will be broadcast on December 27.

Previously, Fleming has received other honors including France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor and Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit—the highest national distinction for civilians in each country. She is also a recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Arts, America’s highest honor for an individual artist. She has won five Grammy Awards, most recently Best Classical Solo Vocal Album for her recording Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene in 2023.

As a Fulbright U.S. Student to Germany, Fleming studied voice in Frankfurt and learned the German language, which laid the foundation for her mastery of Richard Strauss. 

Fleming said that “Fulbright changed me as a person… Now whether performing or working at the intersection of the arts, health and neuroscience, I know that the Fulbright experience is a part of who I am.” In 2021, Fleming gave welcoming remarks at Fulbright’s 75th anniversary gala where she reflected on her experience as a Fulbrighter, observing that “beyond our individual studies, we gained empathy, and the spirit of collaboration, becoming global citizens. It is this kind of inspiration that we will need to address the world’s most intractable problems.”

As a musical stateswoman, Fleming has sung at distinguished occasions including the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Beijing Olympic Games, President Barack Obama’s inaugural celebration in 2008, the Brandenburg Gate concert commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall, and, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

She was the first classical artist ever to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, and has performed at many of the world’s leading opera houses and concert halls. This May, Fleming was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for Arts and Health for the World Health Organization.

Following news of her selection for the Kennedy Center Honors, Fleming said in a statement that, “Music has defined the arc of my life, giving voice to an introverted child, taking me to places I never dreamed of visiting and people I never dreamed of meeting. Most of all, it has shown me the enormous potential for healing and joy that the arts offer everyone. Having looked with awe at the Honorees in that box at the Kennedy Center Opera House, I’m incredibly grateful to think I will be among them.”

In addition to the celebrated soprano, the 2023 honorees were: singer-songwriter and Bee Gees band member Barry Gibb; actress, singer, and rapper Queen Latifah; singer Dionne Warwick, and actor and comedian Billy Crystal. The awards were hosted by singer Gloria Estefan, who was an honoree in 2017 and has hosted two previous ceremonies.

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