It’s Kennedy Center Honors time for a crop including Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal and Dionne Warwick
2023 Kennedy Center Honoree, comedian Billy Crystal, center, waves as he is applauded by fellow honorees Dionne Warwick and Queen Latifah, at the 46th Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Ashraf Khalil, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, December 3, 2023 9:40PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, December 3, 2023 9:41PM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — The newest group of Kennedy Center honorees, including comedian Billy Crystal and actor Queen Latifah, are being feted Sunday night at a star-studded event commemorating their lifetime achievement in arts and entertainment.
Opera singer Renée Fleming, music star Barry Gibb and prolific hitmaker Dionne Warwick also are being honored at the black-tie gala. Each are receiving personalized tributes that include appearances and performances that typically have been kept secret from the honorees themselves.
President Joe Biden welcomed the honorees to the White House before the event, saying the performing arts “reflect who we are as Americans and as human beings.”
The honorees “have helped shape how we see ourselves, how we see each other and how we see our world,” said Biden who then introduced this year's class with a set of glowing superlatives about their work.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden then headed to the Kennedy Center to attend the festivities. The ceremony began just after 6:30 p.m. with 2017 Kennedy Center honoree Gloria Estefan leading a troupe of dancers down the aisle while performing her megahit “Get On Your Feet.”
In announcing the recipients earlier this year, the Kennedy Center's president, Deborah F. Rutter, called this year’s group of inductees “an extraordinary mix of individuals who have redefined their art forms.”
Crystal, 75, came to national prominence in the 1970s playing Jodie Dallas, one of the first openly gay characters on American network television, on the sitcom “Soap.” He went on to a brief but memorable one-year stint on “Saturday Night Live” before starring in a string of movies, including hits such as “When Harry Met Sally... ,” “The Princess Bride” and “City Slickers.”
On the red carpet before the show, movie director Rob Reiner — who cast Crystal in multiple iconic roles — poked fun at the honoree. “I hope this doesn’t give him a big head, because honestly his head’s already big,” Reiner said.
Crystal, who also received the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in comedy in 2007, joins an elite group of comedians cited for both: David Letterman, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett and Neil Simon. Bill Cosby received both honors, but they were rescinded in 2018 following his sexual assault conviction, which later was overturned.
Warwick, 82, shot to stardom in the 1960s as the muse for the superstar songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Her discography includes a multidecade string of hits, both with and without Bacharach, that includes “I Say a Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”
Warwick's tribute kicked off the show with a testimonial by 2021 honoree Debbie Allen, a performance by Cynthia Erivo, and Saturday Night Live cast member Ego Nwodim recounting how scary it was to perform her famous impression of Warwick in front of the diva herself.
Fleming, 64, is one of the leading sopranos of her era, with a string of accolades that includes a National Medal of Arts bestowed by President Barack Obama, a Cross of the Order of Merit from the German government and honorary membership in England’s Royal Academy of Music.
Although she had participated in five other tribute performances for previous honorees, Fleming said being the focus of attention was a “wild” experience.
“It's a different kind of whirlwind,” she said on the red carpet. “Lots going on, but I don't have to worry about performing tonight.”
Gibb, 76, achieved global fame as part of one of the most successful bands in the history of modern music, the Bee Gees. Along with his late brothers Robin and Maurice, the trio launched a nearly unmatched string of hits that defined a generation of music.
“I'm proud of what my brothers and myself accomplished,” Gibb said on the red carpet. “When we were good, and when we were on, it was really special.”
Latifah, 53, has been a star since age 19 when her debut album and hit single “Ladies First” made her the first female crossover rap star. She has gone on to a diverse career that has included seven studio albums, starring roles in multiple television shows and movies and an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her role in the movie musical “Chicago.”
Fleming and Latifah, real name Dana Owens, also share an obscure bit of Kennedy Center Honors historical trivia. They both performed at the 2014 Super Bowl. Fleming sang the national anthem while Latifah performed “America the Beautiful.”