Sesame Street earns TV's first Kennedy Center honor as cast remembers puppeteer Caroll Spinney

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Rachel Yang
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Sesame Street turned 50 years old this year, and what better way to celebrate the milestone than with a Kennedy Center honor?

On Sunday, the iconic children’s show became the first television program to receive the prestigious honor. The annual celebration recognizes artists who have made lasting cultural impacts on society. This year the Kennedy Center also recognized Earth, Wind & Fire; Sally Field; Linda Ronstadt, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

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The co-founders of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney and psychologist Lloyd Morrisett, accepted the honor on behalf of the show, Henson, Muppets artists Caroll Spinney and Frank Oz, and all the artists who helped expand the show.

On the red carpet, the cast wore pinned yellow feathers in remembrance of Spinney, who died earlier today and was the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.

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Premiering November 1969 on PBS, Sesame Street featured Jim Henson’s Muppets teaching children the ABCs of life — from the literal ABCs, to physical and mental health, to lessons about hope and overcoming adversity. Kids have grown up alongside famous characters like Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Bert, Ernie, Rosita, and more.

From its inception, Sesame Street has been praised by parents and critics alike for its progressive and inclusive content, and some of its most poignant episodes touched on topical cultural subjects.

In 2010, Segi, an African-American Muppet, made her first appearance singing about loving her natural hair; Julia, a Muppet with autism, debuted in 2017. Additionally, homelessness, incarceration, Hurricane Katrina, and HIV are all topics that Sesame Street has tackled over its tenure.

The Kennedy Center Honors will broadcast the ceremony on Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and CBS All Access.

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