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A look at the excellence celebrated in tonight’s broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors: NPR

The Kennedy Center Honors will air on CBS Wednesday evening. This year’s honorees include Dionne Warwick, Billy Crystal, Renee Fleming, Barry Gibb and Queen Latifah.



JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This year’s Kennedy Center honorees include Billy Crystal, Dionne Warwick, Renee Fleming, Queen Latifah and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. They were in Washington, D.C., earlier this month for a splashy celebration. And tonight is your chance to see this prestigious event on television. NPR’s Elizabeth Blair was there in person and has a preview of what to expect.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: For Kennedy Center honoree Queen Latifah, it was a tribute for the ages.

SAVANNAH MCCONNEAUGHEY: Yes. My name is Savannah Zoe McConneaughey, aka VanVan.

BLAIR: Before the show, 5-year-old VanVan told me she would be performing one of her favorite Queen Latifah songs.

SAVANNAH: (Singing) UNITY, UNITY

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “UNITY”)

QUEEN LATIFAH: (singing) Here we go. Here we go. UNITY, you need to let them know. UNITY, go, go. Here we go…

BLAIR: Every year, the Kennedy Center brings together A-list talent to salute the honorees with performances. They keep the programming secret. And something special about the broadcast is that you can see the winners react. They usually sit in boxes with the president and first lady. This year, when the Clark Sisters played for Queen Latifah, she was on her feet, beaming and singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “YOU BROUGHT THE SUN”)

THE CLARK SISTERS: (Singing) You made my day. You came to me.

BLAIR: Winner Dionne Warwick is not only known for her impeccable voice, she also has a huge following on social media. “Saturday Night Live” cast member Ego Nwodim joked that Warwick is never at a loss for words.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EGO NWODIM: Even now, when people ask her about everything she’s done, she says, “I don’t know why people are so curious about my life.” They must have theirs.

(LAUGH)

BLAIR: Warwick’s musical performances included Mickey Guyton and The Spinners.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “THEN YOU COME”)

MICKEY GUYTON AND THE SPINNERS: (singing) Oh, I never knew love before. Then you came. Then you came.

BLAIR: Barry Gibb was famous for writing hundreds of songs. He and his brothers, the late Robin and Maurice Gibb, began performing as the Bee Gees in 1958. Their songs for the 1977 film “Saturday Night Fever” are iconic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “NIGHT FEVER”)

BEE GEES: (Singing) Listen to the ground, there’s movement all around. Something is happening and I feel it.

BLAIR: Movies, television, theater – Billy Crystal has done it all. He was honored by his friend Rob Reiner. He directed Crystal in “This Is Spinal Tap,” “The Princess Bride” and “When Harry Met Sally.”

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROB REINER: Not only was he great as Harry Burns, but Bill wrote what I think may be the funniest line in the history of cinema: I’ll have what she’s having.

(LAUGH)

BLAIR: Lin-Manuel Miranda offered this musical tribute to Crystal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (Singing) Making us laugh on this three-letter show, wooing Meg Ryan in cable sweaters, hosting the Oscars, we said, oh, he sings. These are some of our favorite things.

BLAIR: The Kennedy Center Honors recognize artistic excellence. Renee Fleming is a world-renowned opera singer and mental health advocate. She made her Broadway debut in “Carousel” in 2018. In her honor, Tituss Burgess performed one of the musical’s most famous songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TITUSS BURGESS: (singing) When you weather a storm, hold your head high and don’t be afraid of the dark.

BLAIR: The Kennedy Center Honors are on CBS and streaming on Paramount+ tonight.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYLE’S SONG, “PINKTREE”)

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