The stars traveled to Washington, DC on Sunday night for the 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors. Gladys Knight, Amy Grant, George Clooney, Tania León and U2 were celebrated for their contributions to American culture.
Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Eddie Vedder, Brandi Carlile and a host of others praised the performers at the event. President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglass Emhoff were among those in attendance at the gala.
Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul, who were attacked in their home a month ago, received a standing ovation.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
The honorees received medallions at a State Department dinner Saturday night, with Garth Brooks and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken serving as honorary chair.
“Ultimately, these artists remind us of our common humanity, that no matter who we are or where we come from, we all can and are moved by the arts,” Blinken said.
On the red carpet, actor George Clooney — a huge Gladys Knight fan — reminded NPR of a moment at the dinner when the winners received their medallions. “Gladys got up and sang and, you know, just a cappella started singing. … The only thing that was terrible was that I had to follow. So there’s 300 people in the room, it’s ‘ is transcendent – and I’ I’m like ‘God, this is awful! I followed Gladys Knight!”
Seven-time Grammy winner Gladys Knight grew up in Georgia and started singing gospel as a child. She and her brother Bubba, sister Brenda and two cousins formed the original Pips. The classic Gladys Knight & The Pips was her brother Bubba and two cousins.
Clooney may not have the musical chops of Gladys Knight, but there was a lot of love for him as an actor, activist and friend on Sunday. Don Cheadle praised his philanthropy. Julia Roberts called him a “Renaissance man” and Matt Damon ridiculed him.
“I know a lot of people think you look like a movie star, but let’s be honest: it takes a whole village to turn a star into People Magazine’s Sexiest Man. I’ve been there These experts can turn anyone,” Damon joked. .
Honoree Tania León, bandleader and composer, was one of approximately 300,000 refugees who left Cuba on so-called “Freedom Flights” in 1967. She co-founded the Dance Theater of Harlem two years later. The company’s dancers and pianist Chloe Flower performed one of Tania León’s compositions. In 2021, León won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his work on Stridecommissioned by the New York Philharmonic.
At the State Department dinner, Leon talked about calling her ancestors when she creates.
“If I’m going to conduct a concert, I say, ‘Hey, you better come with me because it’s hard. If I have to write an article, I call my ancestors and tell them: “You better help me because the deadline is in two weeks,” she said.
Six-time Grammy winner Amy Grant is the first Christian pop singer to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. CeCe and BeBe Winans, along with the Howard Gospel Choir, performed a medley of Grant songs.
And singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile told NPR that one of the things she admires about Grant is how inclusive she is: “The way she spoke out for LGBTQIA people , especially me, a – it can’t be easy for her. You know, she’s had to endure a bit of heat from her evangelical fans and followers. And I have so much respect for her constantly pushing back the limits on the ability of others to love.”
Many Kennedy Center Fellows use their art and platform to advocate for social justice. And that’s definitely the case with Irish band U2, whose members Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. have won 22 Grammys and Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award.
“Bono often said that being famous is nonsense, fame is nonsense,” actor Sean Penn said. “But it’s currency. And the band spent their currency to show the usefulness of art in the world.”
The Kennedy Center Honors airs on CBS and streams on Paramount+, Dec. 28.
Audio and web editions of this story were edited by Meghan Collins Sullivan. Ajani Daniel assisted in production.