U2, Gladys Knight, Amy Grant and more fete at the Kennedy Center Honors

U2 was in the house and so was George Clooney, Gladys Knight, Amy Grant and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and conductor Tania Leon. To say that expectations were high for Sunday night’s (December 6) 45th iteration of the Kennedy Center Honors would be an understatement.


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And they were met largely, if unevenly, at the star-studded event, where President Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and fellow gentleman Doug Emhoff. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was accompanied by her husband Paul Pelosi, wearing a hat and glove on one hand, making his first public appearance since he was beaten in October at their San Francisco home.

Knight had performed for 2020 honoree Garth Brooks, who hosted this year’s State Department dinner the night before, where honorees received their medals, and he returned the courtesy by performing her hit “Midnight Train to Georgia” while teaching the audience the song’s country. roots.

Ariana DeBose talked about how she listened to Knight’s music growing up in North Carolina before starting “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” And a tearful Patti LaBelle honored her “sister friend” with stories of their personal and professional bond spanning six decades before launching into “That’s What Friends Are For.”

LL Cool J had high praise for one of his musical heroes. “Like stars in the night sky, Gladys Knight illuminates everyone in her orbit,” he said, adding, “I once heard Gladys sing the ABCs and I thought I was in church.”

On the red carpet before the show, Knight was all smiles about getting to spend time with the current president. “I feel like he’s my brother. We go way back and he has such a tender heart,” she said.

Julia Roberts set the stage for the Clooney tribute wearing a dress emblazoned with pictures of her longtime friend. After some good-natured roasting, she applauded him for being “deeply present and aware of the world outside himself” and called Clooney “the best combination of a gentleman and a playmate.”

The toast continued with Richard Kind declaring that “we could solve the world’s problems if everyone could agree,” as they do about Clooney’s failed run as the Dark Knight in 1997’s “Batman & Robin,” and Matt Damon sharing that Clooney once dedicated in Kind’s cat litter. box and stole stationery from then-President Bill Clinton and wrote notes to other actors about it.

But there was plenty of focus on Clooney’s humanitarian efforts, which began at a very young age. His father, Nick Clooney, shared a story about how a 7-year-old George gave up all his toy guns because he was so devastated after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Don Cheadle talked about his efforts to work with Clooney to help people in Sudan’s Darfur region and how the two recently helped found a school.

Asked before the show if being in DC had made him reconsider a once-rumored second career in politics, Clooney turned to his wife Amal and said, “Nah. We have a very nice life.”

Cuban-born Leon, who won the Pulitzer Prize for composing the orchestral piece “Stride” inspired by Susan B. Anthony’s activism, was celebrated by pianist, producer and composer Chloe Flower and Kennedy Center Artistic Director of Jazz Jason Moran, among others .

Leon said before the show that she was inspired by the opportunity to be in the White House, which she had never visited as a tourist. “All of this is going to hit me. When I get home and I’ve settled in and had a little bit of tea, I know this is going to do something to me,” she said.

Grant is the first contemporary Christian artist to be awarded a Rainbow Cord. Outspoken in her support of the LGBTQ+ community, she has been pushing musical and cultural boundaries for decades. About her guideline, she told Billboard, “My mother said to me, and what I say to my children: ‘You must wrap your arms around your own life, and no one can hear your heart but you.’ “

Her segment focused on her dedication to faith and family. Katie Couric called her “the perfect elixir for troubled minds and troubled souls.” Sheryl Crow remarked, “Amy taught me that it’s possible to be funny, irreverent and Christian at the same time,” before breaking into a rendition of Grant’s No. 1 hit “Baby Baby,” which, as it turns out, Grant became inspired to write when one of her daughters was an infant.

Gospel duo BeBe & CeCe Winans lent their soaring vocals to a medley of Grant tunes, as did all the Highwomen—Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires.

Carlile spoke to Billboard pre-show and talked about how moved she was to be able to perform for both Grant and U2 at the show.

“What those two know that touches me deeply is that they play their music, their ambassadorship, their philanthropy through a faith-based lens, really the Christian faith, right on the sleeve, which is a difficult subject for me and people like me, ” she said.

“We’ve all been a little bit marginalized by that belief and for some of us it’s a source of a lot of trauma. So the way U2 and Amy Grant have really come out and publicly supported LGBTQIA people, it’s really been healing and life-affirming for many of us. So it’s the least I can do to be here tonight.”

Which brings us to the show-closing tribute to U2 members Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. Credit to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedderwho, in best Vedder form, poured everything into “Elevation” and “One,” the latter of which was a last-minute addition after Mary J Blige had to bow out due to illness.

Just when things were heating up and it looked like the crowd might be ready to get up from their seats to dance, Sacha Baron Cohen appeared on stage in character as his alter-ego Borat Sagdiyev, the dim-witted journalist from Kazakhstan.

Yes, every time Borat shows up, you can expect it to be weird, and yes, he was hysterical, riffing on everything from his confusion that President Trump was no longer in office to Kanye West’s recent fall from grace: “He even tried to move to Kazakhstan, and he even changed his name to Kazakhstan-ye West. But we said no, he’s too anti-Semitic even for us.”

But his banter had very little to do with U2 and seemed like an odd way to spend the band’s allotted time. When Carlile returned, along with Hozier, to perform a rendition of “Walk On,” it felt like a slightly rushed finale as many of the night’s previous performers reappeared on stage.

This is, after all, U2, one of the most famous rock bands of all time, with 22 Grammys and 170 million albums sold worldwide. Not having included more music, no songs from their defining 1987 album The Joshua treeno crescendoing anthems, just seemed like a miss.

Kennedy Center Honors 2022 will be broadcast on Wednesday, December 28 at 8 p.m. on CBS and streamed on sister network Paramount+.

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