Freddie Gershon, chairman of the theatrical licensing firm Music Theatre International, and his wife, Myrna, are funding the program as a gift to Sondheim. The size of the donation was not disclosed, but the program could run for 10 years or more.
The Kennedy Center-Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards will award an unspecified number of grants each year to U.S. teachers in any subject from kindergarten through college. Organizers said Sondheim is a committed mentor and credits teachers for his success. The Kennedy Center is seeking nominations by Dec. 15 for the first round of grants in 2011.
Sondheim said in a statement that teachers play a defining role in society that should be rewarded.
"Good teachers are touchstones to paths of achieving more than we might have otherwise accomplished, in directions we might not have gone," he said.
Sondheim has won more Tony Awards than any other composer. His musicals include "Follies," "A Little Night Music" and "Sweeney Todd," and he wrote the lyrics for "West Side Story."
The awards were created for Sondheim's 80th birthday this year and will be given each year on his birthday in March. Earlier this month, a Broadway theater was renamed in his honor.
Freddie Gershon said he wanted to show who Sondheim is beyond his lyrics and music.
"We realized that we know a part of Steve that other people don't, which is that he is much more than a great composer and lyricist and theater writer," he said. "There's another legacy, which is his love of teaching."
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