CBS Telecasts 37th Kennedy Center Honors December 30 with Hanks, Tomlin, and Sting Among the Honorees
By: Ellis Nassour
The 2014 Kennedy Center Honors, the 37th annual national celebration of the arts, at Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on December 7 honored singer Al Green, actor Tom Hanks, ballerina Patricia McBride, singer-songwriter Sting, and actress/comedienne Lily Tomlin. Stephen Colbert, soon to helm CBS’s The Late Show, hosted, along with an appearance by Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. CBS telecasts a two-hour special December 30 at 9 P.M.
"The Kennedy Center celebrates five extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world," stated Kennedy Center chair David M. Rubenstein. "Al Green’s iconic voice stirs our souls in a style that’s all his own. Tom Hanks has a versatility that ranks him among the greatest actors of any generation. One of the world’s greatest ballerinas, Patricia McBride, who has graced our Kennedy Center stage many times, continues to carry forward her legacy for future generations. Sting’s unique voice and memorable songwriting have entertained international audiences for decades. From the days of her early TV appearances to her work on Broadway, Lily Tomlin has made us laugh and continues to amaze us with her talent and quick wit."
The gala, produced by George Stevens, Jr. and son Michael Stevens, is one of the highlights of the Washington cultural year. In attendance are not only celebrities from across the show business spectrum, but also top politicians from both parties. The honorees are seated adjacent to President Obama and First Lady Michelle in the Presidential Box, and also feted to receptions at the State Department by Secretary John Kerry and at the White House. The Honors conclude with a supper dance in the grand foyer.
"Tom Hanks can win Oscars," said Ms. McBride." Sting and Al Green win Grammies. Lily Tomlin can win a Tony, Oscar, and Golden Globe. But in the dance world, we don’t have awards like that. For a dancer, to be so honored is extraordinarily special. This honor is also great national exposure for dance."
The honorees never speak for themselves or perform. In keeping with tradition, the roster of performers and presenters remain secret prior to the ceremony until they enter to salute the honorees and introduce a biographical video on each.
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, 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."
Tributes were by a host of Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, and Golden Globe winners.
Whoopi Goldberg introduced the tribute on multiple Grammy-winning soul singer 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."
Earth, Wind & Fire, Jennifer Hudson; Usher; and veteran R&B singers Mavis Staples and Sam Moore performed.
Christine Baranski [The Good Wife; onscreen in Into the Woods] said of Ms. McBride, "From her dark eyes and porcelain skin down to her impossibly pointed arch… she was ‘the One’… The one you could not take your eyes off of. Her dancing had the precocity of a carefree child and the ferocity of a linebacker … the lightness of a sparrow in flight. There was her blazing partnerships with Edward Villella, Jacques D’amboise, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. She was the muse of two of the 20th century’s greatest choreographers: Balanchine and Robbins — all of these are Kennedy Center honorees. Tonight, at long last, she joins their company."
A spectacular series of dance pieces commenced, performed by NYC Ballet principal Tiler Peck, a pas de deux by the company’s Lauren Lovette and Boston Ballet principal Jeffrey Cirio, ABT’s Misty Copeland, then Peck and NYC ballet principal Jared Angle performed. The dancers and members of Ms.McBride’s did a rousing finale of "I Got Rhythm."
David Letterman, a 2012 honoree, led the tribute to Hanks. 2006 honoree Steven Spielberg continued the homage, stating, "Tom’s 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, friend, husband, father, grandfather, and America’s favorite son, who’s inspired us to be better people – and isn’t that the great gift of art? Tom’s art comes from his heart."
Martin Short [soon to be back on Broadway in It’s Only a Play], was emcee of Hanks’ tribute, which commenced with a fun rendition of "That Thing You Do" by Pentatonix. Laura Benanti, Jessie Mueller, and Kelli O’Hara, sang "They Can’t Take That Away from Me." Short led all in the 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.
Humorist Garrison Keillor spoke eloquently of Ms. Tomlin, stating, "Lily … wanted to be an actor, not a joker. 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 TV show and became the telephone operator with the nasally voice. In no time, she was beloved by millions. Lily has that fabulous smile … People who adore Lily Tomlin ask if she really is who we imagine she is. And she really is."
Jane Lynch, actress/comedienne Kate McKinnon, Reba McEntire, and Jane Fonda, who co-starred with Ms. Tomlin in the film 9 to 5, spoke.
Meryl Streep, a 2011 honoree, saluted Sting. "Sting has always responded to the world in which he lives," she stated, "as well as the world inside his head. He’s 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 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 headlined Lady Gaga and Esperanza Spalding, accompanied on piano by Herbie Hancock, a 2013 honoree. Then, Bruce Springsteen, a 2009 honoree, took the stage to perform "I Hung My Head." Finally, Bruno Mars rocked the house, joined by cast members from Sting’s Broadway musical The Last Ship.