Why Are the Kennedy Center Honors Ribbons Rainbow? It's Not What Some Assume

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Jun. 6 2021, Published 3:48 p.m. ET

Hosted by Gloria Estefan and featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Vanessa Hudgens, and the like, the 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors celebrates the work of Debbie Allen, Joan Baez, Dick Van Dyke, Garth Brooks, and Midori.

This year's celebrations, broadcasted on June 6, mark a pronounced shift from previous galas. Instead of a ceremony attended by dozens of guests, the event featured socially distanced events and performances taking place across five days. But so, why are the ribbons rainbow-colored?

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Why are the Kennedy Center Honors ribbons rainbow colored?

Designed by Ivan Chermayeff (the visionary illustrator and graphic designer responsible for the logo of multinational brands like National Geographic or NBC), the rainbow-colored ribbon symbolizes the range and versatility of skills in the field of performing arts.

Midori
Source: Getty Images
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As Ivan told The Washington Post Sunday in 2008, he didn't intend for it to evoke the style of the rainbow flag, which was first designed by a gay activist named Gilbert Baker and debuted at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade celebration on June 25, 1978.

"That spectrum was what I had in mind in the first place, in that it's a spectrum of many skills within the performing arts," Ivan said. "Singing, dancing, and so on."

Unlike the Academy Award or the Grammy Award, the ribbon has a distinctive, eye-catching design that makes the honorees immediately stand out from the crowd.

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Source: Instagram

An unmistakable piece of design, the ribbons handed out at the Annual Kennedy Center Honors might have posed a few stylistic challenges for the honorees over the years. Take Dolly Parton, who reportedly had her Robert Bahar gown specifically altered to fit the style of the award. As a brief Google search shows, women recipients tend to opt for more sophisticated and conservative outfits, which likely match the ribbon better.

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Kelly Clarkson's rendition of "The Dance" left Garth Brooks teary-eyed.

Kelly Clarkson was just one of the stars performing at the 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors — which will air on CBS on Sunday, June 6, 2021.

Her impeccable take on "The Dance," the hit song by Garth Brooks, had a seismic impact on the audiences gathered together at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. But the other performances turned out to be just as unforgettable.

Source: Instagram
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Derek Hough paid tribute to Dick Van Dyke with "Step In Time," an energetic dance routine performed on the rooftop of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Vanessa Hudgens joined a group of fashionably dressed dancers to pay homage to the work of Debbie Allen.

Sturgill Simpson paid tribute to Joan Baez with a brilliant take on "House of the Rising Sun." Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris sang "We Shall Overcome" in honor of the legendary singer, songwriter, and activist.

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Yo-Yo Ma paid tribute to Midori, while Gladys Knight and Jimmie Allen honored the work of Garth Brooks. Pentatonix performed in celebration of the work of Dick Van Dyke.

Ready to find out more about the breathtaking performances? The 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors airs on Sunday, June 6, at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.

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