WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) – Washington celebrated singer Dionne Warwick, comedian Billy Crystal, Bee Gees member Barry Gibb, rapper and actress Queen Latifah, and opera star Renée Fleming on Sunday at the Kennedy Center Honors, the top U.S. honor for achievements in the arts.
President Joe Biden lauded the work of the five performers during a reception at the White House before the show.
“The performing arts are more than just sound and scene. They reflect who we are as Americans and as human beings,” he said.
The show kicked off with a tribute to Warwick, 82, a pop music star since the 1960s who has sold more than 100 million records and is known for hits such as “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and “That’s What Friends Are For,” a 1985 song she recorded with Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder to raise awareness about AIDS.
“There simply is no song that Dionne Warwick cannot sing,” said record producer Clive Davis, adding that she had “inspired musicians all over the world.” Singer Cynthia Erivo performed a stirring version of Warwick’s song “Alfie.”
Crystal, 75, known for roles in films such as “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers,” and “Analyze This,” was next up. Actors Meg Ryan and Robert De Niro appeared onstage to pay tribute to their friend.
“You’re only 75. That means you’re just about six years away from being the perfect age to be elected president,” De Niro quipped. Biden, 81, is running for re-election. The crowd roared.
Crystal is a Tony- and Emmy-winning actor and writer who hosted the Academy Awards nine times. Whoopi Goldberg, who also paid tribute to Crystal, said he should win an honorary Oscar for his service as the longtime host of the show.
Next up was Queen Latifah, 53, a musician and actress known for films including “Chicago” and “Bringing Down the House,” who won a Grammy Award for Best Solo Rap Performance in 1994.
“I feel very blessed. I feel very honored,” she told reporters. Actress Kerry Washington said her friend was one of the “best rappers of all time.”
Singers Tituss Burgess, Christine Baranski and Susan Graham performed “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Broadway show, “Carousel” in tribute to Fleming, 64, an acclaimed soprano who has performed at opera houses around the world and collected five Grammy Awards.
“It’s wild” to be an honoree, Fleming said. “It’s all joy.” Movie star Sigourney Weaver appeared and praised Fleming’s acting.
Opera singer J’Nai Bridges said ahead of the show that Fleming had helped make opera more mainstream.
“Renée Fleming has absolutely made opera more accessible,” she told reporters. “She’s broken through and really kind of paved the way for the generations like myself.”
The show concluded with a celebration of Gibb, 77, a singer and songwriter who performed with his brothers Robin and Maurice in the Bee Gees, a group that sold more than 220 million records. He has won nine Grammy Awards and, as part of the trio, is known for songs such as “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love.”
He told reporters ahead of the show that he felt the presence of his brothers, both of whom have died.
“It’s very emotional,” he said. “What we all did together – when we were good, when we were on – that was something to be proud of.”
Country group Little Big Town performed Gibb’s song “Lonely Days,” singer Michael Bublé sang “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” and Broadway star Ben Platt did a rendition of “Nights on Broadway.”
The show, which was recorded, will be broadcast by U.S. television network CBS on Dec. 27.
Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jasper Ward. Editing by Gerry Doyle
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Jeff Mason is a White House Correspondent for Reuters. He has covered the presidencies of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden and the presidential campaigns of Biden, Trump, Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. He served as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association in 2016-2017, leading the press corps in advocating for press freedom in the early days of the Trump administration. His and the WHCA’s work was recognized with Deutsche Welle’s “Freedom of Speech Award.” Jeff has asked pointed questions of domestic and foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. He is a winner of the WHCA’s “Excellence in Presidential News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure” award and co-winner of the Association for Business Journalists’ “Breaking News” award. Jeff began his career in Frankfurt, Germany as a business reporter before being posted to Brussels, Belgium, where he covered the European Union. Jeff appears regularly on television and radio and teaches political journalism at Georgetown University. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a former Fulbright scholar.