When Henry Kissinger quotes one of your jokes, you know you’ve made a mark in pop culture. Such is the case for singer Dionne Warwick, comedian Billy Crystal, Bee Gees member Barry Gibb, rapper and actress Queen Latifah, and opera star Renee Fleming, who was celebrated Sunday at the Kennedy Center Honors, the top U.S. honor for achievements in the arts. Gloria Estefan hosted the 46th annual gala, which will be televised on CBS and streamed on Paramount+. Honorees gathered for a reception at the White House before the show, which included performances by a slew of artists paying tribute to their work. Celebrities including Kerry Washington, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Sigourney Weaver took the stage to support their fellow honorees.
Warwick, who has sold more than 100 million records during her six-decade career, said she was grateful for the Kennedy Center Honor but also wishes she had a few more trophies to add to her shelf. She cited her 1985 AIDS awareness song “That’s What Friends Are For,” which she sang with Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder, among her most important contributions. Warwick has remained active in music and has even become a social media juggernaut known as the Queen of Twitter.
Crystal, who was inducted as a comedy artist last year, was praised by his wife, Kelly Preston, as a man who is always devoted to family. He’s also a talented performer with an impressive television, film, and theater resume. He was the first stand-up comedian to win a Tony Award for a Broadway musical in 1988’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.”
Latifah, whose rise in the 1980s ushered in a new wave of female rappers, became an Oscar nominee for her supporting role in 2002’s movie musical Chicago. Her rap and R&B hits helped her redefine the traditionally male hip-hop genre and led to an acting career that included multiple television shows, movies, and a role as the Queen in the hit NBC series Empire.
Fleming is a three-time Grammy winner and a former runner-up for best classical vocal performance at the Academy Awards. She has sung at the Met for nearly 30 years and is one of America’s most beloved opera singers. She’s a master at the glittering roulades and trills of Mozart, but she’s equally adept in the humane arias of earlier composers like Handel and Verdi. In her honor, a quartet of opera singers performed an aria from Dvorak’s Rusalka. Throughout the gala, it’s clear that the honorees are genuinely grateful for being recognized by their peers.