The 45th annual Kennedy Center Honors, held Sunday night (Dec. 4), celebrated a handful of figures for their lifetime contributions to the performing arts. Musical artists Gladys Knight, Amy Grant, Tania León, and U2 were recognized alongside actor George Clooney.
The honorees received the traditional rainbow medallions at the State Department dinner held Saturday night (Dec. 3). Country icon Garth Brooks hosted the dinner and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken acted as honorary chair at the event.
“Ultimately, these artists remind us of our common humanity, that no matter who we are or where we’re from, we can and we are all moved by the arts,” recognized Blinken, NPR reports.
Clooney recalled a moment from the celebratory dinner where “Gladys got up and sang and, you know, just a cappella started to sing. The only thing that was terrible was that I had to follow,” Clooney shared. “So there’s 300 people in the room going, this is transcendent — and I’m like ‘God, this is horrible! I have to follow Gladys Knight!”
During the Sunday night ceremony, Knight was honored by Brooks singing her classic, “Midnight Train to Georgia” and Mickey Guyton performing “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” Patti LaBelle joined in to sing “That’s What Friends Are For”
The first Christian pop singer to receive the honor was six-time Grammy Award winner Amy Grant. The night of the ceremony saw a medley of Grant’s career-spanning classics delivered by Sheryl Crow and The Highwomen—Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires—along with gospel singers BeBe and CeCe Winans.
Carlile spoke on her admiration for Grant, telling NPR, “The way that she’s come out in support of LGBTQIA people, specifically me, has—it can’t be easy for her. You know, she has had to have taken a bit of heat from her evangelical fans and followers. And I have so much respect for her constantly pushing the boundaries of other people’s capacity to love.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning conductor and composer Tania León was honored with orchestrations of her classic work.
The Irish band, U2, with members Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. present, were also recognized for their musical and philanthropic endeavors.
“Bono has often said that being famous is nonsense, celebrity is nonsense,” said actor Sean Penn, who spoke on the band’s legacy. “But it is currency. And the band has spent its currency to show the usefulness of art in the world.” The band was honored by performances from Eddie Vedder, Hozier, Morris, Guyton, Crow, and more.
The star-studded Kennedy Center Honors ceremony will air on CBS Wednesday, Dec. 28. It will also be available to stream on Paramount+.
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