Over the weekend, The Kennedy Center honored Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Berry Gordy, Lorne Michaels, and Justino Díaz as part of its annual gala acknowledging creative excellence in the arts.
The event took place at The White House and included a medallion ceremony at The Library of Congress and a black-tie after-party at the performing arts center’s Opera House. The broadcast of the ceremony will run on CBS on December 22.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were in attendance for the event on Sunday night (December 5). In his four years in office, President Trump did not attend the ceremony.
“It is very nice to see the presidential box once again being occupied,” said the night’s host, David Letterman.
Legendary musician Herbie Hancock was in attendance and celebrated Mitchell, calling her work “poetically expansive” and adding that she “devised her own tunings so she could access the emotionally complex chords that she was hearing in her mind.”
Mitchell nearly died of a brain aneurysm in 2015. Commenting on her health and the honor, she said, “I’ve had to come back several times, for one thing, and this last one was a real whopper. But you know, I’m hobbling along there. I’m doing all right.”
“Joni, your words and melodies touch the deepest part of our soul,” said President Biden.
Famed singer-songwriter and Mitchell fan, Brandi Carlile, was in the house and posted a picture of her, Mitchell, and Carlile’s daughter on Instagram, saying, “I just need to leave this here… All dressed up with the Queen @jonimitchell for her big honor and right before we leave the hotel my Evangeline comes out dressed in a velvet suit to see us off 😭 it’s all too much 💙 more later!!”
Carlile recently played Mitchell’s Blue at Carnegie Hall in its entirety, in homage.
Actress Goldie Hawn was on hand to honor Bette Midler saying, She “did not pay any attention to rejection… She sang. She danced. She shook her assets. She created The Divine Miss M.”
Stevie Wonder paid tribute to Berry Gordy, saying of his first meeting with Gordy, the father of Motown, “I was 11 years old and you said ‘Ok, I heard you’re good. What do you do?’ And I said ‘I play harmonica and I sing.’ I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I can sing better than Smokey Robinson.'”
Gordy later spoke to the crowd, saying: “I am so blessed to be in the company of the other honorees, this particular group of honorees whom I have known and admired for a long, long time. To get to meet them and talk to them and let them know how much I appreciate them has been a wonderful feeling for me tonight.”
The singer Díaz and Saturday Night Live showrunner Michaels were also honored.
Joni Mitchel Photo by Marcy Gensic