Artists recognized at 36th annual Kennedy Center Honors

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Washington collides with the arts world Sunday night for the 36th annual Kennedy Center Honors, which recognizes legendary artists from the stage, screen and radio.

President Barack Obama will host the five honorees at the White House for a reception before he attends the event at the Kennedy Center, which is set to air on TV later this month.

The honorees include opera singer Martina Arroyo; actress Shirley MacLaine; and musicians Herbie Hancock, and Billy Joel.

The performance will broadcast December 29 on CBS.

Billy Joel

Joel, 64, is a six-time Grammy Award nominee and 23-time nominee who has sold more than 150 million albums.

The celebrated piano player, singer and songwriter-who’s known for his deep ties to New York–recently signed a deal to perform at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan once a month, starting in January.

He’s held 46 shows at the venue, according to James L. Dolan, executive chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company.

Joel got started in his career playing at a piano bar during high school to bring home some money for his family. Because he missed so much class for work, he was unable to graduate, so he decided to focus on his music career.

“I told them, ‘To hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a high school diploma over there,” Joel said, according to biographical information on the Kennedy Center Honors website.

Shirley MacLaine

The Kennedy Center Honors adds one more big accomplishment for MacLaine, 79, who’s won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in “Terms of Endearment” (1983) and four Best Actress Oscar nominations. Her resume also includes four best actress Golden Globes–two for comedies and two for dramas.

Named after Shirley Temple, MacLaine got her start in the arts in Richmond, Virginia, with dance and landed her first role on Broadway at the age of 20 in “The Pajama Game.”

While her film debut came in 1955 for “The Trouble With Harry,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock, her more recent repertoire includes a role on the popular TV series “Downton Abbey,” and in the upcoming film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” with Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig.

She’s also a prolific writer, with 13 best-selling books that focus on her life, including her belief in reincarnation.

Herbie Hancock

Also known for his piano skills, Hancock will enjoy a reflection Sunday on his impact on jazz. The Chicago native began as a piano prodigy at the age of 11, finding new ways to bring jazz to the keyboard, grand piano, synthesizers and other platforms over the years.

The 73-year-old has an Oscar and 14 Grammy Awards under his belt and counts Miles Davis as one of his mentors and musical inspirations. He played in Davis’ ensemble in 1963 and began releasing his own albums the following year.

Hancock is known for exploring electronic music, thanks in part to his degree in electrical engineering and music from Grinnell College.

The performer has been playing music for decades, with one of his latest hits being the 2008 album, “Possibilities,” in which he paired up with newer artists such as Annie Lennox, John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, and Sting.

Carlos Santana

Santana, 66, marks another musician whose resume includes jazz, along with an eclectic range of genres, from rock to blues to soul.

The iconic guitar player was born in Mexico to a father who played the violin in a Mariachi band. His family later moved to San Francisco, where Santana got started with his own band and performed at the famous Fillmore, followed by another legendary show at Woodstock.

Of his 10 Grammy Awards, nine of them came in 2000 from his mega hit “Supernatural” with Rob Thomas.

Martina Arroyo

Transitioning to a different form of music – opera — the show will also recognize 76-year-old Arroyo, an internationally renowned opera singer who got her start in the same city she was born in: New York.

Born to a Puerto Rican father and an African American mother, Arroyo graduated from Hunter College at the young age of 19. She started singing at Carnegie Hall in 1958 and quickly moved to the Metropolitan Opera, where she performed 199 times throughout her life.

Some of her most famous roles include appearances in “Aïda” and “Les Huguenots.”

In 1976, she was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1976 to the NEA’s National Council on the Arts, and became a familiar name in American households through her more than 20 appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.

By Ashley Killough