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Kennedy Center Honors ceremony returns to pay tribute to Bette Midler, Berry Gordy, Joni Mitchell, Lorne Michaels and Justino Diaz

Kennedy Center Honors celebrates icons
Kennedy Center Honors celebrates cultural icons after ceremony limited by COVID-19 last year 02:34

The 44th Kennedy Center Honors returned to traditions this year, to honor artists for their contributions to American culture.

The awards were presented last night in Washington, after changes and delays to last year's plans because of the pandemic. President Joe Biden joined the celebration, after former President Donald Trump skipped the ceremony for all four years in the White House.

Kennedy Center Honors
Folk music legend Joni Mitchell. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Rock journalist and director Cameron Crowe paid tribute to honoree singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. "For any mood or emotional crossroad where you might find yourself, there is a Joni Mitchell song," he said.

Brandi Carlile was among the artists who performed some of Mitchell's best-known songs, including "River."

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Opera singer Justino Diaz. Carolyn Kaster/AP

The evening also featured tributes to opera singer Justino Diaz. 

Singer Denyce Graves said of Diaz, "It is for no single performance, but for the collective body of his staggering career, that we honor Justino tonight."

Biden Kennedy Center Honors
"Saturday Night Live" mastermind Lorne Michaels. Carolyn Kaster/AP

And "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels was celebrated – and roasted – by current and former "SNL" cast members. 

During a mock "Weekend Update" segment, Amy Poehler said, "This Kennedy Center Honor is a long time coming for Lorne, since he said he would only accept it when JLo and Ben got back together."

Singer and actress Bette Midler. SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images

Legendary stage and screen icon Bette Midler was paid tribute by actress Goldie Hawn, who said, "She can make us laugh and cry, even at the same time, and that is the mark of an artist of the highest caliber." 

Broadway star Kelli O'Hara performed "Wind Beneath My Wings," a song "The Divine Miss M" recorded for the movie "Beaches" that rose to #1 on the charts.

APTOPIX  Kennedy Center Honors
Motown Records creator Berry Gordy. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Songwriter and record producer Berry Gordy, who founded the Motown record label, was also honored, with performances by Stevie Wonder (including "Superstition") that had the opera house in a standing ovation.

The awards ceremony will be broadcast December 22 on CBS, and streamed on Paramount+. 

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