‘Kennedy Center Honors’ Earth Wind Fire, Sally Field & ‘Sesame Street’

Composer Michael Tilson Thomas, Earth, Wind & Fire, Linda Ronstadt, Sally Field, & Sesame Street were honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo property of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com 

A plethora of dignitaries from the entertainment and political worlds arrived at Washington, D.C.’s the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tonight, history was made. Sesame Street became the first television show to be honored for its impact on American culture. The series’ co-creators, Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, sat with R&B supergroup Earth, Wind & Fire, singer-songwriter Linda Ronstadt, actress Sally Field, and composer Michael Tilson Thomas at the President’s Box.

2017 honoree LL Cool J served as this year’s host. After a rousing tribute to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, he introduced the nominees; it was time to get down to business. 2016 Kennedy Center Honoree Don Henley kicked off Linda Ronstadt’s tribute, and I loved hearing how Linda Ronstadt introduced him to the late Glenn Frey. Carrie Underwood sang two of Ms. Ronstadt’s songs: “Blue Bayou” and “When I Will Be Loved.” This was one of the American Idol winner’s best vocal performances.

As Carrie Underwood exited the Kennedy Center stage, Kevin Kline shared his Linda Ronstadt story. They worked together on The Pirates of Penzance and called her “authentic” and the Queen of Rock. He introduced an all-female mariachi quartet who paid tribute to her Mexican folk songs. Then, longtime collaborator, Emmylou Harris, surprised the Kennedy Center stage, where she revealed her first time the duo met. I got chills from Ms. Harris’ heartfelt speech, and she left the stage for Trisha Yearwood, who sang “You’re No Good” and “Don’t Know Much” with Aaron Neville.

2006 Kennedy Center Honoree Steven Spielberg kicked off Sally Field’s Kennedy Center Honors presentation. He revealed that they had known each other for 50 years. He shared how she got the role of Mary Todd Lincoln in the 2012 Civil War drama LincolnDanny Glover narrated a mini-documentary about her life and career. Maura Tierney talked about Sally Field inspired her when the Oscar-winning actress visited the set of E.R. Next, Pierce Bronson talked about their time filming Mrs. Doubtfire with the legendary Robin Williams. Finally, 2014 Kennedy Center Honoree Tom Hanks briefly channeled Forrest Gump to pay tribute to his “Mama” and both Gidget and The Flying Nun.

Sesame Street became the first television show to be honored by the Kennedy Center. Lucy Liu kicked off the tribute by talking about how the children’s television show helped made its viewers: “smarter, stronger, and kinder.” Big Bird appeared in the crowd, hysterically searched for Tom Hanks, and sat on his lap. After arguing with the Oscar winner, he said “Hello” to Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Cedric the Entertainer, who told him to join them on the stage. As Abby and Elmo left the scene to help Big Bird, Cedric the Entertainer introduced a video montage of celebrity guest stars including Adam Sandler, B.B. King, Norah Jones, Patti LaBelle, Smokey Robinson, and Yo-Yo Ma. 

Following a brief break, Joseph Gordon-Levitt talked to Cookie Monster about Sesame Street’s impact on his family. After giving the Muppet two chocolate chip cookies, the actor paid tribute to the show’s ability to help kids grow as humans. It also featured classic clips such as Little Richard singing “Rubber Duckie” and Elmo talking skin tones with Whoopi Goldberg. Elmo and Lucy Liu introduced Thomas Rhett, who was joined by Big Bird, Grover, Abby, Cookie, Bert, and Ernie on a song that celebrated the TV icon. The performance gave me chills, and I loved how everyone from the Muppets and their performers wore a yellow feather to pay homage to Caroll Spinney, who passed away before the taping. The segment ended with everyone singing the show’s unofficial anthem: “Sing.”  

LL Cool J introduced Metallica founder Lars Ulrich who paid homage to Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT). He shared how the heavy metal band collaborated with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony earlier this year on a project. Teddy Abrams and several members of the New World Symphony Alumni performed fellow Kennedy Center Honoree Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down.” Next, actress Debra Winger introduced Yuja Wang, who played a beautiful piano concerto. Finally, she introduced the iconic Audra McDonald, who beautifully sang “Somewhere” and “I Got Rhythm” with the New World Symphony alums, Wang, and Ulrich, who performed a drum solo.

Legendary music producer David Foster paid homage to Earth, Wind & Fire. He revealed the first time he met the legendary R&B supergroup and how they recorded one of his songs: “After the Love Has Gone.” After a brief presentation, John Legend sang “Can’t Hide Love” and delivered a fantastic vocal performance. David Copperfield called Earth, Wind & Fire-“the greatest band in show business” and praised them for being the first band to incorporate magic into their act. He also introduced Cynthia Erivo sang “You” and “Reasons.” Next, Ne-Yo sang “Shining Star” and “Sing A Song,” while the Jonas Brothers took the Kennedy Center audience to “Boogie Wonderland.”

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Copyright 2020 Jacob Elyachar