Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine and Carlos Santana are the honorees for the 36th anniversary of this acclaimed annual special
Eminent artists, friends and peers of this year's five Kennedy Center honorees gathered in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8 to present entertaining and heartfelt tributes at the 36th annual event, an entertainment special to be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 29 (9 p.m.), on the CBS Television Network. Honorees this year included Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine and Carlos Santana.
The annual event recognizes recipients for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures and television. In keeping with tradition, the roster of performers and presenters remained secret prior to the gala, and a short biographical film was featured during each honoree's tribute.
Performers and presenters included Kathy Bates, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Terence Blanchard, Garth Brooks, Joseph Calleja, Terri Lyne Carrington, Vinnie Colaiuta, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Sheila E, Sutton Foster, James Genus, Chantelle Grant, Ryan Speedo Green, Buddy Guy, Don Henley, Dave Holland, Juanes, Anna Kendrick, Robert Kerr, Lionel Loueke, Marcus Miller, Patina Miller, Mix Master Mike, Tom Morello, Karen Olivo, Bill O'Reilly, Fher Olvera, Aaron Parks, Sondra Radvanovsky, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Arturo Sandoval, Wayne Shorter, Snoop Dogg, Justice Sonia Sotomayer, Brendon Urie, Rufus Wainwright, Steve Winwood and Yuriy Yurchuck.
President and Mrs. Barack Obama were seated with the honorees in the Presidential Box of the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, after hosting the traditional White House reception for the honorees.
Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award-winning actress Glenn Close opened the festivities with a quote from 1980 Kennedy Center Honoree Agnes DeMille, who said, "The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark."
Close continued, "This year we honor five who, throughout their lives, made creative leaps ... landing on their feet, providing joy and enlightenment to millions. We proudly add their names to our signature wall. A songwriting lad from New York whose songs illuminate our lives and his fans crowned him America's piano man. A wide-eyed girl from Harlem whose tenacity and sublime voice fueled a triumphal march to becoming a queen of Verdi opera. A Chicago prodigy who loved playing Gershwin and loved taking risks - exploring music's far frontiers and becoming our very own jazz master-in-chief. A captivating redhead from Virginia with legs up to here, a heart out to there, and a life too big for just one lifetime. A virtuoso who brought the passion of his beat to America, his supernatural guitar and his super sounds electrifying us from Woodstock to the White House. These are our 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees."
Multiple Grammy Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award winner Harry Belafonte, a 1989 Kennedy Center Honoree, introduced the tribute to his longtime friend, multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning musician Carlos Santana. "I tell you folks, there's no two ways about it, we have got to do something about Mexican immigration. Every day you have people like Carlos Santana coming into this country and taking jobs that should be going to ... to Americans!" he joked.
Belafonte continued, "Carlos Santana is now a citizen of the world. He belongs to all of us. And while he hasn't transcended race and origin - really, who of us does? - he has continued to be informed by the immigrant experience and the journey to the American dream. I think that's why his music is so filled with joy and passion ... and his heart is filled with love and generosity. Even without the music, Carlos Santana would be an essential humanitarian ... but with the music ... well, he is a god. His music tells us to be happy, to get up and move and not just side to side, but to get up and move mountains. It tells us to love. And what a privilege it is tonight to give back some of that love to my friend, Carlos Santana."
The musical portion of the tribute commenced with an introduction by the Rob Mathes All Star Band of "Soul Sacrifice," followed by a performance medley of "Corazon Espinado," "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va," with vocalist Fher Olvera, multiple Grammy Award winner Juanes on vocals and electric guitar, and guitarist Tom Morello. Next, blues legend Buddy Guy, a multiple Grammy winner and 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree, performed "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man." Finally, Grammy-winning musician Steven Winwood and Grammy-nominated recording artist Sheila E gave the audience a rendition of "Everybody's Everything," which concluded the performances in honor of Santana.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayer began the tribute to honoree Martina Arroyo by saying, "I'm here for the diva. Now we justices are fond of using words precisely. Long before diva took on a different meaning, it meant the most celebrated of female opera singers - generally a soprano of rare talent. As a derivative of an Italian word meaning 'goddess,' it was used sparingly to describe only those opera singers who took us to another world. Now that's the kind of diva I'm talking about. That's Martina Arroyo. Martina always had the raw talent - a soaring, lyrical, captivating voice that transports her listeners. But to be a real diva, you need more. First, you need grit, determination, passion and dedication to your craft. Born into a world in which it took until 1955 for the first female singer of color to appear at the Met, Martina faced an uphill battle. With the help of incredible parents who taught her that she could accomplish anything, she never gave up."
Sotomayer continued, "Another quality you need to be a true diva is heart. I'm convinced Martina's voice couldn't be that beautiful if it weren't connected to a heart that's beautiful. She is the most giving person - lavishing warmth, care and attention on her colleagues, many friends, and legions of students. We bonded with each other - a kid from Harlem and another from the South Bronx - over a love of mothers and a sympathetic understanding of the value of people. Finally, I think you can be a diva without a sense of humor, but you can't be my diva. I just love Martina's gentle wit. When the great diva of color, Leontyne Price, was also appearing at the Met, the stage doorman greeted Martina saying, 'Good evening, Miss Price.' She sweetly replied, 'No, honey, I'm the other one.' ... Martina Arroyo is full of life, one of the girls, a sensitive teacher, a lover of people, and a brilliant artist. That's how I like my divas. That's why I love my friend Martina Arroyo."
The tribute to Arroyo was a Verdi celebration featuring the music of "Aida," commencing with tenor opera singer Joseph Calleja singing "Celeste Aida." Next, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky performed "O Patria Mia." Then the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club and Army Herald Trumpets took the stage for the "Triumphal March," followed by the "Finale from Act II," sung by Arroyo's protégés Ryan Speedo Green, Robert Kerr, Yuriy Yurchuk and Chantelle Grant, who were joined by Calleja and Radvanovsky for the tribute's moving conclusion.
Television host and political commentator Bill O'Reilly spoke of his role model, Oscar and multiple Grammy-winning jazz musician Herbie Hancock, stating, "Herbie Hancock is a remarkable artist and a remarkable American, so we start his tribute there. Over the years, I've talked with Herbie a few times. I don't hang with him ... because I don't want to ruin his reputation. When I do see him, I'm always impressed by his serenity, his modesty, his politeness. And believe me, I need that kind of role model. ... Here's my history with jazz: When I was a young man, I pretended to like it. It just seemed cool. ... Then suddenly jazz seemed to change. And the instrument of that change I noticed - the whole music world noticed - was Herbie Hancock. There is no way I am qualified to speak about music. ... I just know what I like. But I do know innovation. Herbie was never an imitator. He moved on to create his own unique sound. And he didn't stop there. He's still doing it."
O'Reilly continued, "Herbie's status as an artist with an international following has allowed him to travel the world, entertaining millions. His overseas exposure has always reflected well on his country, something I also care deeply about. He is a true gentleman. His fame and skill reflect the values that have made America great ... hard work ... creativity ... respect for yourself and others. Herbie Hancock rebelled against the status quo in music; he never rebelled against humanity. It's that embracing of what is good in mankind that infuses Herbie's music and makes him a national icon. He says, 'I realized that if I perceive myself as a musician, somehow there's an invisible barrier between myself and people who aren't musicians. But if I define myself as a human being, all the barriers disappear.' True. Humble. To the point. That's Herbie Hancock."
A rousing array of jazz standards opened the performance segment of the evening, beginning with "Walkin'" and "Watermelon Man," with multiple Grammy winner Wayne Shorter on saxophone, multiple Grammy-winning pianist Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Grammy-winning bassist Dave Holland, and multiple Grammy winner Terence Blanchard on trumpet. This was quickly succeeded by another group of musicians playing "Cantaloupe Island," including Grammy winner Teri Lyne Carrington on drums, along with jazz musicians Wayne Shorter, James Genus, Aaron Parks, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Michael Bearden, Vinnie Colaiuta and Lionel Loueke. Then, yet another band of musicians performed "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)" and "Rockit," including Grammy winner Marcus Miller on bass, with Snoop Dogg and DJ Mix Master Mike joining in with a special rap written for the occasion. All of the musicians united together for the upbeat finale of "Chameleon."
Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Kathy Bates, who starred with Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy-winning actress Shirley MacLaine in the feature films "Used People" and "Bruno," spoke of her longtime friend, saying, "Shirley MacLaine, we've been friends for 20 years - can you believe it's been that long? It might surprise this illustrious crowd to know that you and I have had the pleasure of making four films together. This joint body of work has accumulated a total of no Oscar nominations ... and the same number of Golden Globes. I only wish we had the money back it cost to make those pictures; maybe we could have made a dent in the budget deficit? ... Me, I was tickled pink just to see my name on the call sheet with yours - albeit several lines below, but it was there! And though our movies together didn't do 'Hunger Games' numbers, I'm proud to say our friendship continues to break all records. Like you, it's got legs."
Bates continued, "Your humanity informs your work. You never judge your characters, or your friends. You believe in the invisible forces that define our souls. And you have a deep desire to bring those souls to life in all their various incarnations and share with us their hopes and fears, their foibles and failures. But it's your tremendous discipline and otherworldly devotion that makes it all look so effortless. Acting is as necessary to you as breathing. ... You are the most curious person I have ever met - not curious as in strange - though that, too - but you're inquisitive. You ask questions to physicists and scientists, to ex-presidents and statesmen, to ordinary old people sitting in front of you - and to beings no one else but you can see - I personally witnessed that last conversation. But most of all, I admire your faith in possibilities: the possibility that we have lived many lives, the possibility that we are not alone in the universe - NASA is betting the house on. Shirley, friend of my heart, I am so proud to be here tonight to celebrate your magnificent accomplishments as an artist. I know you don't think of yourself that way. You're just passionate about what you do and you're still working hard at it. Don't stop! We think you're simply magnificent. Now. Forever."
Then Close introduced a performance homage to MacLaine, saying, "Years ago, a young dancer with stars in her eyes headed to New York and took musical theater by storm. Tonight, returning the favor, Broadway's brightest young stars have come to the Kennedy Center to salute the artist they admire."
First Tony-winning actress, singer and dancer Sutton Foster performed a medley of hit Broadway songs made famous by MacLaine, including "Something Better Than This," "Steam Heat" and "She's No Longer A Gypsy," followed by Tony-winning musical theater actress Patina Miller singing MacLaine's signature song, "If My Friends Could See Me Now." Then Tony-winning actress Karen Olivo sang "Irma La Douce," followed by Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick belting out "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish." The tribute concluded with all of the performers singing "Lord Help Us, We Love Her" in honor of MacLaine.
Multiple Grammy- and Emmy-winning musical icon Tony Bennett, a 2005 Kennedy Center Honoree, spoke eloquently about multiple Grammy-winning recording artist Billy Joel. "I came of age with the legacy of the Great American Songbook, created by the likes of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, and interpreted by Frank, Ella, Nat Cole and me. The whole world loves these songs. But times change, and there was an opening for another songbook - one that could reflect and celebrate its own times. Enter Billy Joel. Billy Joel's an exciting performer who can move and electrify audiences. And he does it singing the song of ... Billy Joel. Great songs on subjects from love to war, from triumph to loss, and stories about ordinary people with extraordinary emotions. He did it in styles from ballads to folk, from street-corner a-cappella to the richness of the best pop from the '30s and '40s. And he puts them to tunes you can't get out of your head."
Bennett continued, "What a thrill for me to perform with Billy in front of 110,000 of our fellow New Yorkers at Shea Stadium, singing his 'New York State of Mind.' Billy Joel is also creating a legacy through education. He visits schools throughout the country. I'm grateful that he spent time with students at a public high school I founded in New York City - the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts. Billy Joel is so much more than the piano man he wrote about, who sings to audiences in the mood for a melody ... and he has them feeling all right. Billy Joel is no less than the poet/performer/philosopher of today's American Songbook."
The musical homage to Joel commenced with singer Brendon Urie from "Panic! at the Disco" singing a rock-infused rendition of "Big Shot," succeeded by multiple Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Don Henley performing a touching version of Joel's famous song, "She's Got a Way." Then Grammy-winning recording artist Garth Brooks took the stage to perform a medley of Joel's hits, "Only The Good Die Young," "Allentown" and "Goodnight Saigon," that left not a dry eye in the house. Finally, Grammy nominee Rufus Wainwright sang Joel's iconic songs "New York State of Mind" and "Piano Man," giving a performance that brought the evening of entertainment to its rousing conclusion.