WASHINGTON • The Kennedy Center Honors showcased the breadth of American music on Sunday with emotionally charged performances celebrating the gospel roots of Mavis Staples, the honeyed vocals of James Taylor and the Southern California harmonies of the Eagles.
The 39th annual celebration of lifetime achievement in the performing arts also honoured actor Al Pacino and pianist Martha Argerich in a party that offered a wistful goodbye to United States President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, who were hosting their last Honors tribute.
Actors Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey and musicians Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin and Ringo Starr were among A-listers who hailed the legacy of the award recipients.
"We can agree that the White House has given us a leader who is passionate, intelligent and dignified," host Stephen Colbert said to the audience, as Mr Obama stood and waved.
"Sir, I don't know why you stood up," Colbert said after an extended ovation for the President. "I was talking about Michelle."
The tributes began with Mr Bill Clinton praising singer-songwriter Taylor, 68, whom the former US president described as a friend. "His influence in our lives goes way beyond his contributions to the American songbook," Mr Clinton said. "His music and lyrics are the seams in the fabric of our national life."
As if to make the case, country singer Darius Rucker performed Taylor's signature Sweet Baby James before seguing into Carolina In My Mind. Sheryl Crow sang a medley of Fire And Rain and Your Smiling Face. Brooks performed Shower The People before joining in for a performance of How Sweet It Is.
While Pacino, 76, built a career playing con men and gangsters, including his role as Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), his co-stars described him as being generous and an advocate for creativity and the arts. "I don't think there's an actor from the last five decades who has been more influential than Al Pacino," said Bobby Cannavale, his co-star in Danny Collins (2015).
Spacey offered a three-step tutorial for doing a Pacino impression; actors Laurence Fishburne and Lily Rabe recited poetry from three Shakespeare plays; and actors Chris O'Donnell and Gabrielle Anwar re-created their famous tango from Scent Of A Woman (1992) - a film that earned Pacino an Oscar.
The evening ended with an emotional tribute to the Eagles. Starr introduced members Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, who were joined by Glenn Frey's widow, Cynthia. "Well done, boys, and peace and love to everybody," said Starr.
The Eagles were supposed to be part of last year's production, but the members postponed their acceptance when Frey became ill. He died in January.
Vince Gill's rendition of Peaceful Easy Feeling drew tears from more than a few in the audience and Bob Seger's rocking Heartache Tonight, an Eagles hit he co-wrote with Frey, brought the crowd to its feet. Singer Juanes performed Hotel California before everyone jammed to the final number, Life In The Fast Lane.
The event airs on Dec 27 on CBS.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS