WASHINGTON (AP) — A heartfelt Patti LaBelle praised her lifelong friend, Gladys Knight. Sean Penn called U2 “four scrappy Dublin punks”. Ballet dancers perform for conductor and composer Tania León. Matt Damon jokingly pokes fun at his friend George Clooney — a lot — while Sheryl Crow at Sunday’s Kennedy Center honors Dedicated to Amy Grant’s heartfelt rendition of “Baby Baby.”
Knight, Clooney, Grant, León and U2 all celebrated at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Each year honors a group of individuals who have had an artistic impact on American culture. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their respective spouses were in attendance, along with members of the president’s cabinet and Congress.
One audience member from across the political spectrum — Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — raised some eyebrows. He is recovering from the brutal October attack at Pelosis’ San Francisco home. The couple received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Usually a performer like U2 or Knight would be the star of a show like this, but at the Kennedy Center event, the honorees sat on balconies and watched their peers praise them and perform their work.
Clooney joked with his wife Amal at his side on the red carpet that he worried his tribute would be more of a “roast after seeing friends like Don Cheadle and Julia Roberts in attendance” “. Kind of like that, despite the obvious respect shown by his friends and family.
Roberts set the tone by taking to the stage in a dress emblazoned with Clooney’s photo. After an intro that’s by turns funny and heartfelt, she turns to a set that looks like a smoky bar—the kind Clooney might like. The actor’s father, Nick Clooney, told the audience stories about George’s childhood, including the 7-year-old’s heartbreak over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. . 1968 – Gave all his toy guns to his father.
Damon took the funny route, joking that Clooney once stole then-President Bill Clinton’s stationery and wrote notes to other actors on it. Cheadle highlighted Clooney’s philanthropic work. But Clooney’s father probably got the strongest praise, sitting on the balcony between Leon and U2’s Bono, telling the crowd and his son, “George’s best and most important work is still ahead of him.
Standing on a stage lit by a giant “Gladys” sign, LaBelle called Knight her “everything,” saying they had been friends for six decades and met through laughter and tears. “We do everything together,” Labelle said. “It is an honor to honor you tonight.”
Actor and hip-hop star LL Cool J said that whenever Knight sings, she connects with people. “I once heard Gladys sing ABC and I thought I was in church,” he said.
Knight – Often recorded with her backing vocalist The Pips on dozens of albums, including classics like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The challenge of singing a classic in front of the woman of fame fell to country music superstar Garth Brooks, himself a Kennedy Center honoree. He cites Knight’s “roots of country music” before getting into the classics.
Each artist is introduced through a video compilation showing snippets of their lives. In Grant, her children spoke about the influence their mother had on them. Crowe spoke of Grant’s influence on her as a young college student.
“Amy also taught me that it’s okay to be funny and irreverent and Christian at the same time,” Crowe said.
Five ballet dancers took the stage to honor composer and conductor Tania León, who left Cuba as a refugee in 1967; her passport was stamped “Cancelado” when she left the country. The performers were from the Harlem Dance Theater, which Leon helped find when he eventually made his way to New York City. She also founded the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for being inspired by women’s rights champion Susan B. Anthony.
“How do I express the extent of your musical genius?” asked actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. Jazz pianist Jason Moran, singer Alicia Hall Moran and cellist Sterling Elliott performed one of Leon’s compositions, “Oh Yemanja.”
The last winner of the night was U2. In a video recorded Saturday, U2 guitarist The Edge pointed to a group of four “Irish lads” being honored for their contributions to American culture and said there was an unexplainable sympathy between the group and America. connect.
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam sang U2’s “Elevation” and “One.” As part of U2’s tribute, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen brought his alter ego Borat on stage, pretending to mistake Biden for former President Donald Trump. American, Irish and Ukrainian singers Brandi Carlile, Hozier and Jamala closed the show with the moving “Walk On”.
U2’s Bono is also known for his charitable work fighting poverty and raising awareness of AIDS. Jamala, whose native Ukraine has been embroiled in a bloody war for nearly a year following the Russian invasion, spoke about the history of social activism as she introduced the final song of the night.
“It is fitting that they once again use their platforms to spread a message of peace on a night in their honor. To be honest, being in this bright and warm hall tonight is really special to me because my home country, Ukraine It’s full of darkness,” she said.
The honorees came to the theater from a White House reception, where Biden hailed them as “an outstanding group of artists” before a star-studded East Room crowd.
“Thank you for showing us the power of art and ‘we the people,'” Biden said.
AP White House correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report. Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.