The “Kennedy Center Honors” Billy Joel, Carlos Santana & Shirley MacLaine

Billy Joel, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Shirley MacLaine & Martina Arroyo were this year's Kennedy Center Honorees (Photo property of the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts)

Billy Joel, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Shirley MacLaine & Martina Arroyo were this year’s Kennedy Center Honorees (Photo property of the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts)

By: Jacob Elyachar,

One special event that I look forward every year is The Kennedy Center Honors.

Since its first ceremony in 1977, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have honored some of the most celebrated and influential people in the arts and entertainment industry.

Previous honorees have included Julie Andrews, Lucille Ball, Mel Brooks, Johnny Carson, Ray Charles, Elton John, Jack Nicholson, Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Tina Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

This year’s honorees were opera soprano Martina Arroyo, jazz icon Herbie Hancock, actress Shirley MacLaine, guitarist Carlos Santana and the one and only Billy Joel.

After actress Glenn Close delivered the opening remarks of the evening and introduced all five 2013 Kennedy Center honorees, it was showtime!

Humanitarian and fellow music legend Henry Belafonte delivered a humorous tribute to his old friend. “Your heart is filled with love and generosity,” said Belafonte. “It is a privilege to give back some of it to you, tonight.”

A diverse group of music veterans and young guns including Juanes, Orianthi, Buddy Guy, Sheila E, Steve Winwood and Tom Morello paid tribute to the Latin rocker with a medley of the guitarist’s hits including “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va.” One of the highlights of the set was Morello’s show-stealing guitar rifts.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first justice to participate in the Kennedy Center Honors celebration.  She paid tribute to opera diva Martina Arroyo.

Justice Sotomayor explained that even though the word “diva” has another connotation where the term’s definition was: “an opera singer that took us to another world.” Ms. Arroyo teared up when some of her favorite performers (including a couple of her protégés) paid tribute to her with selections from Verdi’s Aida.

Political commentator Bill O’Reilly surprised the Kennedy Center audience with his tribute to Herbie Hancock. The O’Reilly Factor host called his friend: “a remarkable American, a remarkable artist” and a “true gentleman.”  In addition to O’Reilly’s surprisingly introduction, some of Jazz’s finest paid tribute to Mr. Hancock including Chick Correa, Marcus Miller and Joshua Redman.  However, the scene-stealer of this set was Snoop Dogg, who made the entire Kennedy Center audience hoot and holler!

Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates paid tribute to her co-star for four films…Shirley MacLaine! During her tribute to her friend, Bates truthfully stated: “acting is as necessary to breathing for your being!”  Several of Broadway’s brightest stars including Sutton Foster, Patina Miller and Anna Kendrick delivered superb song-and-dance numbers from Ms. MacLaine’s days on the Great White Way.

Last, but certainly not least…it was time to honor the American Piano Man. Mr. Bennett, one of the remaining living masters of the Great American Songbook, passed the torch onto Mr. Joel and stated that he leads “today’s generation of the American Songbook.”

Multiple generations of performers came together to pay tribute to Mr. Joel.  Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie sang “Big Shot” while the Eagles’ Don Henley covered “She’s Got A Way.” Garth Brooks performed two classics “Allentown” and a moving version of “Goodnight Saigon,” which featured a choir of Vietnam veterans from all sections of the US Armed Forces. Rufus Wainright closed the night with “New York State of Mind” and “Piano Man.”

To learn more about the Kennedy Center Honors, visit their website:

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Copyright 2020 Jacob Elyachar