ENTERTAINMENT

Argentinian piano prodigy Martha Argerich among Kennedy Center honorees

Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich in a Oct. 18 2005 file photo.

Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich in a Oct. 18 2005 file photo.  (AP2005)

For the second year in a row a Latin artist will receive the nation’s highest honor for the arts.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Thursday that the Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich will be honored this year alongside acting great Al Pacino, rock band The Eagles, gospel singer Mavis Staples and singer-songwriter James Taylor.

"My late mother would be very proud today, and I would like to share this wonderful tribute with her," Argerich, 75, said in a statement, adding that her mother always dreamed that she would study and perform in the United States.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the pianist was a child prodigy who gave her first concert at age 8 and moved to Europe with her family as a teenager to continue her studies.

Argerich, only the 6th artist of Hispanic descent to be honored, is considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. However, some are cautioning that the Kennedy Center is still overlooking other Hispanic talents that are just as, if not more, deserving.

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The chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Felix Sanchez, told Fox News Latino that while he appreciates the recognition, there are other mainstream artists that are being passed over.

“I don’t want to take away from the award. It’s a wonderful honor and a great accomplishment, but if you are going to recognize a standout artist who is international, there are standout artists who are international and spill over into the U.S.,” Sanchez said.

“Julio Iglesias (and) Gustavo Dudamel come to mind in terms of the international Latino,” he added.

He said that with Argich’s selection, the Kennedy Center has decided to pick an artist that is well known in their genre, but is not necessarily known to a wider American audience.

She made her U.S. debut in 1965 at Lincoln Center in New York. Since then, she has been considered one of the world's most prominent pianists. Her repertoire includes performances of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. She has won three Grammy awards.

“If you pick artists known in their genre, then expand it to other genres and you should consider Los Tigres del Norte, who are record-breaking artists in their genre,” said Sanchez, adding that the norteño band is the leading artistic voice of the Mexican immigrant community in the U.S. and is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018.

As for domestic Latino artists, Sanchez said the likes of Joan Baez, Edward James Olmos and Linda Ronstadt are among the many who are very deserving of the Kennedy Center honor.

In 2012, the Kennedy Center came under fire from the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and other advocacy groups for continually overlooking Latino artists.

Only five Kennedy honorees have been of Latino origin since the creation of  the awards in 1978: Placido Domingo, Chita Rivera, Carlos Santana, Martina Arroyo and Rita Moreno.

The discontent became even more apparent after a tense phone exchange between the foundation’s chairman Felix Sanchez and Kennedy Center’s then president Michael Kaiser. During the conversation, Kaiser allegedly used profane language when Sanchez called to discuss the lack of Latinos honored by the center.

Kaiser later apologized for the exchange and the Center amended the selection process by creating an artist review panel and opening the nomination up to the public on its website. Since then only Santana, Arroyo, Moreno and now Argerich have been selected.

The honorees will be celebrated at a gala on Dec. 3, featuring performances and tributes from top entertainers. The show will be broadcast on Dec. 27 on CBS.

For The Eagles, the recognition will be bittersweet. The band was tapped for the honor last year but postponed its appearance because of founding member Glenn Frey's failing health. Frey died in January, about a month after the honors gala.

"We accept this honor in memory of our comrade and fellow traveler, Eagles founder Glenn Frey," the band said in a statement. "The members of the band hailed from different regions of this great nation and we always felt very fortunate that our music was embraced by people from all walks of life, all over the world."

For Pacino, the star of "The Godfather" trilogy who has long been regarded as one of the great American actors, the honor is arguably overdue. Many of his peers who became leading men in adventurous 1970s Hollywood have already been honored, including Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Robert Redford.

"I am grateful and deeply humbled by this unexpected and extraordinary honor," Pacino said in a statement.

Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter, who's had the job for two years, said she didn't know why Pacino hadn't been selected sooner.

"When I called and invited him, it was an enthusiastic yes," Rutter told The Associated Press. "You could say all of them are overdue or all of them are exactly at the right moment. We have a great opportunity to recognize people who are still active and yet have accomplished so much."

Taylor, who previously performed at the gala, said that returning as an honoree is “astonishing.”

"I am deeply moved to be included in such august company,” he said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com.

Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

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