‘Kennedy Center Honors’ Berry Gordy, Bette & Joni

Berry Gordy, Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, Justino Díaz, & Lorne Michaels were honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo property of CBS’ Scott Suchman)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

The Kennedy Center Honors are back! 

Since 1978, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has honored individuals who have impacted American pop culture and the performing arts world. Previous honorees have included David Letterman, Debbie Allen, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Gloria Estefan, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Rita Moreno, Stevie Wonder, and the late Johnny Carson, Lucille Ball, and Ray Charles. 

Tonight, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, singer-songwriters Bette Midler and Joni Mitchell, opera singer Justino Díaz, and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels joined this prestigious group! 

After President and Mrs. Biden made their entrance and took their seats, late-night legend and 2012 honoree David Letterman made his hosting remarks. He noted that for the first time since 2019’s show that they were back in the Kennedy Center’s “unbelievably delightful, magnificent opera house.”

Joni Mitchell had the first Kennedy Center tribute of the evening. Oscar-winning director Cameron Crowe kicked off the evening by introducing a film narrated by Graham Nash. Norah Jones began the performances with a goosebump stirring medley of Ms. Mitchell’s top songs such as “The Circle Game,” “A Case of You,” and “Help Me.” Next, Ellie Goulding performed “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Four-time Emmy-winner Dan Levy spoke about his mom’s first experience with Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, and the love of its album moved him. Six-time Grammy-winning musician Brandi Carlile tackled the iconic “River.” Dan Levy introduced 2013 inductee Herbie Hancock and Brittany Howard, who concluded the tribute with a haunting cover of “Both Sides Now.” 

The 2021 Kennedy Center Honors continued by honoring Lorne Michaels. 2007 Kennedy Center Honoree Steve Martin paid tribute to the Saturday Night Live creator. Many superstars such as John Goodman, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Dana Carvey, and Eric Idle narrated a monologue that celebrated his creativity. Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig dressed as the Blue Brothers weaved Mary Katherine Gallagher and Matt Foley into their tribute. Next, Seth Meyers talked about Weekend Update and threw a zinger at FOX News into his monologue. Kevin Nealon returned to the Weekend Update desk, while Pete Davidson spoke about the show’s signature political impressions.

Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler reunited at the Weekend Update desk and delivered their signature zingers to pay tribute to their former boss. Kenan Thompson walked onto the Kennedy Center stage and praised him for taking him from Georgia to the Big Apple. Current Weekend Update anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost took back the desk, lampooned President Biden for his sleepiness, and spoke his epic Emmy wins. Jimmy Fallon walked out onto the stage, said how Lorne was a genius, and introduced music legend and 2002 Kennedy Center Honoree Paul Simon and performed “America.” 

The First Wives Club co-star Goldie Hawn kicked off the Divine Miss M’s tribute. I loved her quote: “The world knows Bette as a superstar, which you are. I have watched Bette from the very beginning, and she is a super-powered goddess to me.” Adele narrative a career retrospective video; however, I could not hear the “Easy on Me” singer-songwriter’s voice because the background audio drowned her out. Ms. Midler’s Hello Dolly co-stars, including Beanie Feldstein, sang “Friends.” Her Beaches co-star Barbara Hershey praised her lifelong friend, and Tony-winning actress Kelli O’Hara performed the film’s iconic song: “Wind Beneath My Wings.” 

Founding member of the Harlettes, Melissa Manchester, walked on the Kennedy Center stage and told the origin story of Bette’s backing vocalists. She also introduced the fabulous Emmy, Grammy, and Tony-winning Billy Porter, who sang a medley of Bette’s hits: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Love Is On the Way,” and the iconic “From a Distance.” 

2002 honoree Chita Rivera praised longtime friend Justino Díaz for “conquering the great opera houses of the world.” Díaz’s daughters paid tribute to their father beautifully with a ballad dedicated to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Kennedy Center Honoree Grace Bumbry praised the opera singer’s ability to both his innate ability of “being an actor and a singer.” A collection of performers sang an aria from Carmen. To conclude the tribute, a trio of powerhouse opera singers performed a scene from Faust. 

Kennedy Center Honoree and one of Berry Gordy’s oldest friends, Smokey Robinson, and retold the story of how their friendship began. Oprah narrated the Motown Records owner’s life in a brief video. After the video, Smokey returned to the stage to introduce the cast of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life & Times of the Temptations. The cast sang Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations’ signature duet: “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

Smokey Robinson spoke about the Oscar-nominated film: Lady Sings the Blues and introduced Andra Day. The latter portrayed Billie Holliday in another Oscar-nominated film – The United States vs. Billie Holliday. Andra sang the iconic “God Bless the Child,” and she delivered a fabulous vocal despite the sound being off. Stevie Wonder closed out the tribute with “My Cherie Amour” and “Superstition.” 

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Copyright 2020 Jacob Elyachar