Article 2014-12-07 John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts, Washington, DC

Kennedy Center rocks the honors roll to salute Sting, Green, Hanks, Tomlin, McBride

The Kennedy Center Honors offered its usual mix of celebrity surprises Sunday night during a star-studded performance that featured soaring soul music and Hollywood schmaltz, before ending with an old-fashioned rock-and-roll jam.

The 37th annual event — hosted by comedian Stephen Colbert — honored singer Al Green, actor Tom Hanks, ballerina Patricia McBride, comedian/actress Lily Tomlin and pop star Sting. This year’s celebration was infused with a shot of youth, thanks to appearances by such singers as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson and Usher.

As is tradition, the artists sat with the president and first lady and watched the evening unfold. But that and other traditions could change. Producer George Stevens Jr., who has been at the event’s helm since 1978, told the audience that this will be his last event — after Kennedy Center officials told him they wanted to reinvigorate the show.

“We accept that this will be our last Honors, and it is,” Stevens said after thanking his son Michael, who has been his co-producer for 10 years. “This is our goodnight.”

Colbert kicked off the ceremony with a few polite digs, but he played a minor role in the proceedings.

“Tonight, Washington puts the arts above politics because no matter what party you belong to, everybody wants a selfie with Tom Hanks,” Colbert told the well-heeled crowd.

In addition to an endless parade of CBS stars — not unexpected, since the program will air on that network Dec. 30 at 9 p.m. — the gala performance included several former honorees returning to pay it forward, or perhaps to pay back the colleagues who had previously lauded them. Steven Spielberg paid homage to Hanks, for example, who did the same when the “Saving Private Ryan” director was honored in 2006.

The black-tie event, which raised more than $6 million, began with a musical salute to soul legend Green. Earth Wind & Fire turned in an energetic “I Can’t Get Next to You,” Hudson performed a smoldering “Simply Beautiful” and Usher got the crowd on its feet for “Let’s Stay Together.” But veteran singers Mavis Staples and Sam Moore stole the spotlight with a joyfully raucous “Take Me to the River,” backed by the younger artists and a giant choir.

Broadway and TV star Christine Baranski gushed with admiration as she introduced McBride, a prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet who danced with Edward Villella, Jacques D’Amboise and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“She was the muse of two of the 20th century’s greatest choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins,” Baranski said. “All of these names are Kennedy Center honorees. Tonight, at long last, she joins their company.”

Two of today’s leading ballerinas, Tiler Peck and Misty Copeland, performed works choreographed by Balanchine that McBride made famous. Members of the Charlotte Ballet — the North Carolina company McBride has led since 1996 — appeared to join them in a spirited romp through George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” another Balanchine classic. McBride beamed.

Tomlin’s accomplishments were touted in the evening’s most awkward segment. First, Jane Lynch and “Saturday Night Live” comedian Kate McKinnon toasted the actress as a trailblazing performer.

“Lily, thank you,” McKinnon said, “You turned playing lovable oddballs into a viable career option.”

Longtime friend Reba McEntire described her generous, loyal pal, and Jane Fonda stirred in some feminist politics — loosely tied to “9 to 5,” the film she and Tomlin made about working women.

“Lily made people laugh so hard that they didn’t even notice we were talking about flextime and day care and another really weird notion called equal pay,” Fonda said. “Equal pay? They’re still laughing about that one.”

If Tomlin’s salute was quirky, then the celebration of Hanks’s career was hokey Hollywood magic. David Letterman joked, Spielberg was heartfelt and Martin Short tried to sum up his longtime friend’s acting range while also explaining his appeal.

“There’s something about Tom Hanks that feels like he’s the very essence of America,” Short said.

And as if to prove it, Short sang a reworked version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (complete with the lyric, “Yankee Doodle went to Spielberg, riding on his Oscars”). Before the number was over, there were five military ensembles, including the U.S. Air Force Band’s Ceremonial Brass and the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, filling the stage and aisles. A delighted Hanks pretended to conduct.

The night’s grand finale was reserved for Sting, the multiple-Grammy-winning pop star and newly arrived Broadway composer. Longtime fan Meryl Streep, who appeared with the musician in the 1985 movie “Plenty,” gave a formal introduction that was both intimate and encyclopedic.

“Thank you for your restless heart, for ‘Roxanne’ and ‘The Last Ship,’ and everything from the 40 years in between,” she said, pausing as if to hold back a smirk. “Every breath you take, every you move you make, we’ll be watching you.”

Four musical numbers celebrated the breadth of his music. A sparkling Lady Gaga played piano on the uptempo “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” and Esperanza Spalding and 2013 honoree Herbie Hancock turned in a jazzy duet of “Fragile.” Bruce Springsteen contributed an emotional “I Hung My Head,” a fitting response to Sting’s performance of the Jersey rocker’s 9/11 anthem “The Rising” when the Boss was an honoree.

But the evening’s showstopper was Bruno Mars leading a glorious rock-and-roll carnival of “So Lonely,” “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle” that ended with Mars jamming with the cast of “The Last Ship” — who had made a mad dash to Washington after Sunday’s matinee in New York to surprise the show’s creator and composer.

By Peggy McGlone via The Washington Post.

See Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars Honor Sting at Kennedy Center

Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Mavis Staples and more paid tribute to Al Green at the event

Sting waved his fists victoriously in the air and grinned from ear to ear when Bruce Springsteen took the stage to pay tribute to the former Policeman at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, broadcast Tuesday night. The other honorees of the evening were Al Green, Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin and ballerina Patricia McBride. Springsteen put a gritty spin on “I Hung My Head,” Sting’s tale of manslaughter and guilt that first appeared on his 1996 album Mercury Falling and was later covered by Johnny Cash. When the E Street Band frontman played a rapid-fire solo just before a gospel choir came out to sing along, Sting just closed his eyes.

Lady Gaga toasted Sting as well, singing and playing piano for a performance of “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” off the honoree’s 1993 album Ten Summoner’s Tales. The platinum-wigged singer gave the song’s middle section some extra bluesy growl, after which Sting wore a blank expression that looked neither happy nor displeased as if he were holding back his emotions. But when she announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, Sting!” toward the end of her performance, he couldn’t hold back a laugh.

Another singer who got Sting to break his steely Britishness was Bruno Mars, who performed two Police songs – “So Lonely” and “Message in a Bottle.” The singer gave the former song a reverent performance that didn’t stray far from the original’s rocky skank. For the latter, Mars put down the guitar for some impassioned “Oh yeahs” and welcomed a crew of backup singers, the cast of Sting’s Broadway musical The Last Ship, which drove Sting to tears. By that point, even Steven Spielberg and President Obama were singing along. Gaga, Herbie Hancock and Esperanza Spalding (the latter two of whom played Sting’s “Fragile” earlier) came out and joined Mars onstage, and Meryl Streep and Springsteen came out and joined them for the finale.

Elsewhere in the broadcast, Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to Green with a soulful rendition of “Simply Beautiful,” which drew a smile from the singer. Mavis Staples and Sam Moore sang “Take Me to the River” to each other, while Usher snapped his way through Green’s enduring hit, “Let’s Stay Together.” The latter performance got the audience up and dancing, including the Obamas and the evening’s other honorees.

“The Kennedy Center celebrates five extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world,” Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a statement prior to the event. Of the two musical honorees, he said, “Al Green’s iconic voice stirs our souls in a style that is all his own; Sting’s unique voice and memorable songwriting have entertained audiences for decades.”

Sting previously performed Springsteen’s “The Rising” at the event in 2009, when the E Street Bandleader was honored. Last year’s musical Kennedy Center Honors recipients included Hancock, Billy Joel and Carlos Santana.

By Kory Grow via Rolling Stone.
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