Kennedy Center Honors: Music-centric tributes hit all the right notes



After 5 lengthy years, the Kennedy Heart Honors are lastly again in full drive. How can we ensure? As a result of nearly nobody talked about its return to regular throughout a weekend of festivities that culminated Sunday in a barely greater than three-hour ceremony celebrating 5 new honorees.

Actually, the one point out of the previous 5 years on the forty fifth annual Kennedy Heart Honors got here from actor/comic Sacha Baron Cohen, who, whereas talking in character as fictional Kazakh journalist Borat, made remarks that arguably stretched the viewers’s consolation zone: “I’m advised president of U.S. and A. is right here. The place are you, Mr. Trump?” Wait, Borat? We’ll get to him. We promise.

This time final 12 months, Washington Put up theater critic Peter Marks hailed the ceremony, which featured a star-studded crowd in black tie and masks, as a “return to one thing like regular.” This 12 months we will reduce the “one thing like.” And certainly, President Biden and first girl Jill Biden have been again for a second 12 months after 4 “first couple”-less years due to a presidential boycott in the course of the Trump years and the following pandemic, which led to a largely digital present for the 2020 awards (held in May 2021). Becoming a member of them have been Vice President Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff. Saturday’s medallion ceremony was again in its correct place on the State Division after being held on the Library of Congress final 12 months. And everybody — we imply everybody — gave the impression to be within the temper to have a good time.

Fortunately for them, the ceremony — held within the arts middle’s 2,364-seat Opera Home theater and honoring actor, filmmaker and philanthropist George Clooney; modern Christian music sensation-turned-pop-star Amy Grant; the “Empress of Soul,” singer Gladys Knight; Irish rock band U2 (Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.); and Cuban American composer-conductor Tania León — was, naturally, a largely musical affair.

Have a look round when the Pips have been cooing or the Highwomen have been belting, and also you have been prone to see somebody acquainted clapping alongside, be it Anthony Fauci, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), actor Laurence Fishburne, Biden adviser Mitch Landrieu or, after all, Biden — you title it.

The evening proceeded like clockwork. The nominees have been praised in 5 segments, every that includes a semi-biographical video with notable voice-overs (actor Brad Pitt for Clooney, critic Wesley Morris for Knight), clips from Saturday’s medallion ceremony, just a few audio system and a few (often musical!) set items.

Celebration of the 61-year-old Clooney, as the one nonmusical artist honored, proved the exception. It started with a humorous introduction by former honorees Massive Chook and jazz legend Herbie Hancock — an odd pair certain, however like peanut butter and pickles, it labored. As Hancock mentioned, “The Kennedy Heart is a spot for everyone who lives in America — even birds.”

Julia Roberts, ever the fashionista, took the stage in a costume adorned with an uncommon sample — all photographs of Clooney — and dubbed her buddy a “Renaissance man.” The display screen then lifted to disclose a set re-creating an previous barroom. On the small tables, sipping cocktails, sat Roberts together with actors Richard Sort, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and, most notably, Clooney’s father, Nick. After Dianne Reeves carried out a track from 2005′s “Good Night time, and Good Luck,” which Clooney wrote and directed, every stood to offer a brief monologue concerning the actor.

Cheadle praised Clooney’s humanitarian work, notably (he mentioned half-winkingly) marrying Amal Alamuddin and beginning the Clooney Foundation for Justice. Sort mentioned the honoree’s lengthy journey to stardom, expressing pleasure of what’s to return. Damon talked about that Clooney is commonly known as “the final true film star,” which struck him as incorrect given Clooney’s penchant for sensible jokes.

Clooney’s father, although, advised a touching story concerning the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Nick Clooney was internet hosting a tv present on the time, and, as he was making ready a speech concerning the tragic day, his 7-year-old son walked into the room with a bag stuffed with his toy weapons. He didn’t need them anymore. Nick ripped up the speech. What might be extra eloquent, in any case.

The remainder of the night required dancing sneakers — or not less than a bit of seat-dancing. An indication studying “Gladys” in lights hung above the set for Knight, 78, the place the Pips have been joined by Garth Brooks for “Midnight Prepare to Georgia”; Mickey Guyton for “Greatest Factor That Ever Occur to Me”; and Ariana Debose for a heck of a rockin’ model of “I Heard it By way of the Grapevine.” The Pips left the stage as Patti LaBelle sauntered on and known as Brooks, Guyton and Debose again for a touching rendition of “That’s What Associates Are For.”

Journalist Katie Couric launched Grant’s section, calling her music the “excellent elixir for troubled time and troubled souls” earlier than performances by Sheryl Crow and the Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires) earlier than gospel singers BeBe & CeCe Winans belted out “Sing Your Reward to the Lord.”

Earlier honoree Carmen de Lavallade launched the tribute to 79-year-old composer Tania León, who left Cuba as a 24-year-old refugee and was receiving this award just one 12 months after incomes the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in music. It featured a number of performances, together with vocalist Alicia Corridor Moran’s resounding tackle “Oh Yemanja” from the opera “Scourge of the Hyacinths” and a rendition of León’s Pulitzer-winning composition “Stride” by the Kennedy Heart Honors Orchestra, members of the Sphinx Group, cellist Joe Kwon of Avett Brothers and conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson. Actress Anna Deavere Smith narrated the story of León’s life story from Cuba to the US, detailing such moments of significance as Leonard Bernstein discovering her at Tanglewood.

The evening ended with reward for the Irish rock band U2, recognized for its anthemic rock tunes — which acquired the consideration on the verge of its fifth decade collectively. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder took the stage to play covers of “Elevation” and “One,” and Sean Penn supplied a touching speech concerning the band’s prolific philanthropy. However the showstopping second (for good or sick, relying in your private structure) was in all probability Cohen, reprising his Borat character to reward the band “by the title of Me 2.”

“Please take away your wretched album from my iPhone 6,” Borat implored, later including one other request: “Your band battle oppressions from around the globe. Cease it!”

The irreverent jokes stored the gang calmly chuckling, the ultimate section that includes Ukrainian singer-songwriter Jamala, Hozier and Carlile singing U2′s “Stroll On” as many different performers from the night — together with Morris, Reeves, Guyton and Crow — joined in to shut out the occasion with a word of exuberant pleasure.

On Saturday, the honorees had gathered on the State Division with a gaggle of particular friends — a mix of each political and creative stars — to share a dinner and obtain their medallions. Nobody, although, was given a extra beneficiant welcome than a behatted Paul Pelosi, who acquired a thunderous standing ovation. He joined his spouse, Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on the dinner, and once more at Sunday’s ceremony, in one among his first public appearances after being attacked during a home invasion on the finish of October.

Underlying the cheerful nature of Saturday evening’s ceremony was a robust message of the significance of the humanities to the worldwide neighborhood. In his welcoming remarks, Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to artists of all stripes as “diplomats” and mentioned, “You don’t want to talk English to really feel one thing once you take heed to ‘Midnight Prepare to Georgia.’ ” Brooks echoed the sentiment, saying, “Artwork not solely connects us, it binds us.”

The honorees acquired tailor-made toasts from numerous celebrities. Of word was Roberts, whose outfit once more performed half in her reward. She donned a inexperienced costume, learn a self-written limerick to U2 and invited the quartet onstage for an intimate toast of black velvets — Guinness combined with champagne. She added that at 55, she’s been fortunate to “by no means know a life with out their music.”

The honorees, who didn’t converse throughout Sunday’s ceremony, then every supplied just a few phrases of their very own, all hammering dwelling the purpose of artwork as a communal good, one thing that brings us collectively.

Clooney, in the meantime, reiterated the evening’s theme of art-as-togetherness, joking that he’s traveled the world and everybody agrees on one factor: “You sucked as Batman.”

Sonia Rao contributed to this report.

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