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Kennedy Center Honors Five Extraordinary Artists

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) -- Eminent artists, friends and peers of this year’s five honorees gathered in Washington, D.C. last night (Dec. 7) to present entertaining and heartfelt tributes at "The 37TH Annual Kennedy Center Honors," the entertainment special will be broadcast Tuesday, Dec. 30 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on CBS.

The annual event recognizes recipients for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures and television. In keeping with tradition, the roster of performers and presenters remained secret prior to the gala, and a short biographical film was featured during each honoree's tribute. 

PHOTOS: 37th Annual Kennedy Center Honors

Performers and presenters included Jared Angle, Christine Baranski, Laura Benanti, Jeffrey Cirio, Misty Copeland, Earth, Wind & Fire, Jane Fonda, Lady Gaga, Whoopi Goldberg, Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Hudson, Garrison Keillor, David Letterman, Lauren Lovette, Jane Lynch, Bruno Mars, Reba McEntire, Kate McKinnon, Sam Moore, Jessie Mueller, Kelli O’Hara, Tiler Peck, Pentatonix, Martin Short, Esperanza Spalding, Steven Spielberg, Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Meryl Streep and Usher.

President and Mrs. Barack Obama were seated with the honorees in the Presidential Box of the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, after hosting the traditional White House reception for the honorees.

37th Kennedy Center Honors
Photo credit BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Host Stephen Colbert opened the festivities, stating, “Tonight’s celebration of the arts is in keeping with the vision of President Kennedy, who in 1963 said, ‘I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.’ So tonight, Washington puts the arts above politics. Because no matter what party you belong to, everyone wants a selfie with Tom Hanks… On the signature wall behind me, these are the names of those who have gone before. To this roll of honor, we now add five men and women whose creativity has enriched our lives.” 

Academy Award, Emmy Award, Grammy Award and Tony Award-winning actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg introduced the tribute to multiple Grammy Award-winning soul singer Al Green, stating, “There’s something in the songs written and performed by Al Green that makes you believe in a higher power, because they soar above just about what anybody else can do. There’s something in the gospel sound that Al Green returned to that makes you understand the dual meaning of ‘soul’ music. So never has anyone made soul music more inclusive.”

The musical portion of the tribute to Al Green commenced with a vibrant medley of songs, including “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “Love & Happiness,” performed by the multiple Grammy Award-winning band Earth, Wind & Fire. Next, Academy Award, Golden Globe and Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson sang “Simply Beautiful,” followed by a smooth rendition of “Let’s Stay Together” by multiple Grammy Award-winning singer Usher. Finally, Grammy Award-winning R&B singers Mavis Staples and Sam Moore gave the audience a rousing rendition of “Take Me to the River,” which concluded the performances honoring Al Green. 

Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress Christine Baranski paid tribute to renowned ballerina Patricia McBride. “From her dark eyes and porcelain skin down to her impossibly pointed arch… she was ‘the One.’ The One in Red, the One in Pink, the One you could not take your eyes off of. Her dancing had the precocity of a carefree child, or the ferocity of a linebacker. The elasticity of a rubber Gumby, the lightness of a sparrow in flight. There was her blazing partnership with Edward Villella, but she also danced with the great Jacques D’amboise and the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov. She was the muse of two of the 20th century’s greatest choreographers: Balanchine and Robbins… all of these names are Kennedy Center honorees. Tonight, at long last, she joins their company.”

A spectacular series of dance pieces in honor of Patricia McBride commenced with “Fascinating Rhythm,” performed by New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck, followed by “Rubies” pas de deux danced by New York City Ballet soloist Lauren Lovette and Boston Ballet principal dancer Jeffrey Cirio. Next, American Ballet Theater dancer Misty Copeland was sublime in the solo from Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux. Then, Tiler Peck returned to the stage with New York City ballet principal dancer Jared Angle for “Dances at a Gathering.” A rousing finale of “I Got Rhythm,” featuring all of the previously seen dancers as well as additional dancers from Patricia McBride’s company, The Charlotte Ballet, completed the stirring performances.

Multiple Emmy Award-winning television host and comedian David Letterman, a 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree, began the tribute to Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks by saying, “I’ve known Tom Hanks for a long, long time. He and I met by chance in Hollywood, Calif. We were kids. Both wanting to get into show business. We parked next to one another in a huge film studio lot. Coincidentally, we were auditioning that day. Tom was auditioning for a little something called ‘Bosom Buddies.’ I was auditioning for a little something called Menudo… and pretty much our careers have been the same ever since.” Multiple Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and 2006 Kennedy Center Honoree Steven Spielberg continued the homage to Tom Hanks. “Even though Tom and I have collaborated in film and television and I’ve seen him walk the boards of Broadway – I am a huge fan. He is an artist of the highest magnitude whose brilliance is only exceeded by his modesty. Tom thinks of himself as the luckiest guy in the world – I see him as the hardest-working guy I know. Tom is also a good man. A good friend. A good husband, father, grandfather and America’s favorite son, who has inspired us over the years to be better people – and isn’t that the great gift of art? And Tom’s art comes from his heart. It is this undeniable driving force that raised him to the mezzanine level of the Kennedy Center – and why we are here tonight to look up to you, Tom – to say thank you.”

Actor Martin Short, a Tony and Emmy Award winner, served as Master of Ceremonies for the performance tribute to Hanks, which commenced with a fun rendition of “That Thing You Do” by the vocal group Pentatonix.  Next, three stars of the Broadway stage, Laura Benanti, Jessie Mueller and Kelli O’Hara, sang “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.” Then, Martin Short led all of the performers for the upbeat finale of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” featuring the U.S. Army Chorus, the U.S. Army Color Guard, the U.S. Naval Academy Gospel Choir, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and the United States Air Force Band’s Ceremonial Brass.

Grammy Award-winning author, humorist and radio personality Garrison Keillor spoke eloquently about Emmy Award, Grammy Award and Tony Award-winning comedienne Lily Tomlin, stating, “Lily went off to New York and she knew very well she wanted to be an actor, not a joker. And she was so lucky, she made a commercial for a cold medicine and was so terrific as a person with nasal congestion that she got hired by a hit TV show and she became the telephone operator and she became the little girl with the sinuses. And in no time, she was beloved by millions and millions of people. One more thing about her is that she has that fabulous smile, and she’s had it ever since she was a kid. People who adore Lily Tomlin ask you if you know her, and if you do, they want to know if she really is who we imagine she is. And she really is.” 

Next, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch, actress and comedian Kate McKinnon, Grammy Award-winning country music singer and actress Reba McEntire, and Academy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Jane Fonda, appeared in a spoken word performance piece honoring their longtime friend and comedy hero, Lily Tomlin. 

Multiple Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, a 2011 Kennedy Center Honoree, spoke eloquently about multiple Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Sting. “Sting has always responded to the world in which he lives, as well as the world inside his head. He is one of our essential musicians because in his search for his own truth, he whispers directly into our hearts. As T.S. Eliot says, ‘Music heard so deeply it is not heard at all but you are the music while the music lasts.’ With relentless curiosity, and a wanderlust for world music of every era, Sting has never settled on any one mode of expression. The only constant has been the search for the joy creativity holds locked in its mysterious origins.”

The musical homage to Sting commenced with multiple Grammy Award winner Lady Gaga singing a rock-infused rendition of “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” succeeded by a touching version of the famous song “Fragile” by multiple Grammy Award-winning musician Esperanza Spalding, who was accompanied on the piano by Academy Award and multiple Grammy Award-winning musician Herbie Hancock, a 2013 Kennedy Center Honoree. Then, Academy Award, Golden Globe and multiple Grammy Award-winning recording artist Bruce Springsteen, a 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree, took the stage to perform the soulful song, “I Hung My Head.” Finally, Grammy Award winner Bruno Mars rocked the house with a medley of iconic hits, including “So Lonely,” “Roxanne,” and “Message In a Bottle.” He was joined by cast members from Sting’s new Broadway musical “The Last Ship,” together giving an amazing performance that brought the evening of entertainment to its rousing conclusion.

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