Cosby, Nelson among Kennedy Center Honorees: Kander, Ebb, Previn, Black Also on List

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Comedian Bill Cosby, Broadway composers John Kander and Fred Ebb, country star Willie Nelson, composer-conductor Andre Previn and child star-turned-diplomat Shirley Temple Black have been named to receive this year's Kennedy Center Honors.

Mr. Cosby, 61, issued this characteristically garrulous comic statement through a spokesman: "I am very touched to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. However, I feel there are many other people that are more deserving than I am. Hopefully in years to come I will be as deserving as they are. However, by then, I may not be able to make as good an acceptance speech as I am now. So I graciously accept the honor at this time."

Mr. Cosby was already popular as an actor, comedian and creator of Fat Albert and the Cosby kids when he became a national icon with the hugely popular "Cosby Show" on NBC and best-selling book "Fatherhood" in the 1980s. His career has not been bulletproof; the movie "Leonard Part 6" flopped at the peak of his fame. But his appeal endures, especially on TV, where he is headlining another sitcom on CBS.

The fortunes of Mr. Kander and Mr. Ebb, best-known for years as the composer and lyricist of the 1966 Broadway hit "Cabaret" and the 1978 urban anthem "New York, New York," have risen considerably in the 1990s.

"Just wow," Mr. Ebb said yesterday from California, recalling his reaction when Mr. Kander called him last week with news of the Honors.

"Kiss of the Spider Woman" put them back on the Broadway map in 1993, and the revival of their 1975 "Chicago" two years ago remains one of the hottest tickets on Broadway.

So does the Roundabout Theatre Company production of "Cabaret," which reopened last night after being closed for a few weeks because of a construction accident that had shut the building. "Over and Over," the duo's new musical based on Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth," debuts at Arlington's Signature Theatre this winter.

Mr. Nelson follows Johnny Cash and Roy Acuff into the Honors pantheon on the strength of such signature songs as "Crazy," "On the Road Again," "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before. …