Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming and Q-Tip Named New 'Artistic Partners' at Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center named Q-Tip, Yo-Yo Ma and Renée Fleming as three new "artistic partners" during its 2016-17 season announcement Tuesday. The center also announced a JFK Centennial, an inaugural hip-hop culture series and other programming. Q-Tip: Q-Tip; Ma: Jason Bell; Fleming: Andrew Eccles

Their names are not likely to be uttered in the same breath on a regular basis, and fans of one may never have listened to the music of the others. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has named three new "artistic partners" for its 2016-17 season, the center announced Tuesday as part of a whirlwind of news about its upcoming programs. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, celebrated opera singer Renée Fleming and influential recording artist and producer Q-Tip have all been appointed to new roles.

"I have invited three very forward-thinking artists, Yo-Yo, Renée and Q-Tip, to collaborate with us on the deepest levels as we shape the future of the center's programming and seize our responsibility to represent the performing arts in contemporary culture," Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter says in one of several press releases outlining the 2016-17 season. "I expect the outcomes of our work with these exceptional artists will have a transformative impact on the way arts patrons interact not only with the Kennedy Center but the arts in communities around the country."

The unlikely trio joins a slate of nine other artistic partners already at the Kennedy Center, including Philippe Auguin, music director of the Washington National Opera; Suzanne Farrell, artistic adviser for ballet programming and artistic director for the Suzanne Farrell Ballet; and Jason Moran, artistic director for jazz programming.

Ma's position as artistic adviser at large will have him focusing on programming and public engagement around the JFK Centennial, which the center also announced Tuesday. Kennedy's 100th birthday would have been May 29, 2017, and the center, as the late president's "living memorial," will dedicate more than a year of programming starting this April to celebrate its namesake and honor his ideals, Rutter said at the Tuesday announcement.

"I am an immigrant, one whose first experiences of the United States came during John F. Kennedy's presidency," Ma is quoted as saying in another press release. "Many of the ideals his administration represented—championing the arts and sciences, empowering youth through education and service—became mine at that time, and I hold them still." In a video message he prepared for the season announcement, Ma described his experience playing as a 7-year-old cellist at "the very first fundraiser for what eventually became the Kennedy Center."

Fleming, who like Ma will serve for three years as an artistic adviser at large, will curate a VOICES series that will include genres representing the spectrum of vocal expression, from jazz to pop to classical. She'll also work on educational and other initiatives, including one that looks at the intersection of the arts and health, "exploring the holistic benefits the arts have on the brain and body—from aiding childhood development and academic engagement to treating PTSD, chronic pain, autism and Alzheimer's."

The Kennedy Center also announced its inaugural hip-hop culture series, along with its first artistic director for hip-hop culture. A founding member of A Tribe Called Quest in the 1980s, Q-Tip has also worked with such artists as the Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige and Pharrell Williams.

"With hip-hop constantly changing and evolving, it is easy to forget the history and legacy that precede it," Q-Tip said in a statement. "I want to begin at the beginning of the culture to help people see its roots, better understand its present and responsibly create its future."

As Rutter explained at the start of the Tuesday briefing, "we have a lot of news to share." She said that "this is about nine press releases; this is nine seasons that we're sharing." Indeed, press releases announcing the new artistic partners, the JFK Centennial, the 2016-17 highlights, the "season of mashups," the theater season, the ballet and contemporary dance season and the inaugural hip-hop season, as well as those announcing the seasons for the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera, all went up on the center's website Wednesday morning.

Watch the full season announcement video here:

The Kennedy Center's slew of news came just one day after a big announcement for the D.C. dance world. Julie Kent, a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre who retired from the stage last June, will move to the nation's capital to become the artistic director of the Washington Ballet beginning in the 2016-17 season. Victor Barbee—Kent's husband, a fellow former ABT principal and the current associate artistic director at ABT—will join her at the Washington Ballet as associate artistic director.

The company is not yet listed in the Kennedy Center's dance lineup for next season but has performed there multiple times this year. Its production of Hamlet, set to music by Philip Glass, begins a run at the center's Eisenhower Theater later this month.

Between the Kennedy Center's plans and new leadership at the Washington Ballet, there's much to look forward to in the performing arts next season in Washington, D.C.