WASHINGTON– Artists like Gladys Knight or Irish band U2 would normally headline a concert in front of thousands, but Sunday’s Kennedy Center Honors will turn the tables as they and other artists are celebrated for their lifetime artistic contributions.
Actor, director, producer and human rights activist George Clooney, pioneering composer and conductor Tania León and contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant are honored along with Knight and the entire crew of U2 from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The organization honors a select group of people each year for their artistic influence on American culture. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their respective spouses are expected to attend.
The 61-year-old Clooney – the actor among this year’s musically inclined award winners – has television credits dating back to the late 1970s but became a household name with the role of Doug Ross on the television show ER.
From then on, he starred in films like Batman & Robin”, “Three Kings”, “Ocean’s Eleven” (and Twelve and Thirteen) and his latest film “Ticket to Paradise”. He also has extensive directing and producing credits, including Good Night, and Good Luck. He and his wife, humanitarian rights attorney Amal Clooney, founded the Clooney Foundation for Justice, and he has produced telethons to raise money for various causes.
“To be named in the same breath as the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. This is a really exciting surprise for the whole Clooney family,” Clooney said in a statement on the center’s website.
Knight, 78, said in a statement that she was “indescribably humiliated” upon receiving the Kennedy honor. Born in Georgia, Knight began singing gospel music at the age of 4 and continued his career spanning decades.
Knight and family members formed a band that later became known as Gladys Knight & The Pips” and produced their first album in 1960 when Knight was just 16 years old. Since then, she has recorded dozens of albums featuring such classics as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” She also acted in television shows and films while Knight and the band were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Mariah Carey described Knight as “…a textbook to learn from”.
Sometimes the Kennedy Center honors not just individuals, but groups; “Sesame Street” got the nod once.
This year it’s the band U2. The group’s strong connection to America dates back decades. They performed in Washington in 1980 during their first trip to America. In a statement, the band – which includes Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. – said they originally came to America with big dreams, “partly fueled by a widespread belief back home that America smiles at Ireland. “
“And it turned out to be true again,” the statement said. “It was a four-decade love affair with the country and its people, its artists and its culture.”
U2 has sold 170 million albums and has been honored with 22 Grammys. The band’s epic singles include “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. Lead singer Bono has also become known for his philanthropic work to eradicate poverty and raise awareness of AIDS.
Christian music performed Amy Grant said in an interview with The Associated Press that she has never been to the Kennedy Center Honors, although her husband, country musician Vince Gill, has performed at previous ceremonies. Grammy-winner Grant is known for crossover pop hits like “Baby, Baby,” “Every Heartbeat,” and “That’s What Love is For.” She has sold more than 30 million albums, including her 1991 album Heart in Motion, which brought her to a wider pop audience.
Composer and conductor Tania Leon said during an interview when the award winners were announced that she didn’t expect “anything spectacular” when the Kennedy Center first reached out to her. After all, she has worked with the Kennedy Center numerous times over the years, beginning until 1980 when she was commissioned to compose music for a play.
But the 79-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner said she was stunned to learn the ceremony would be for her this time.
Leon left Cuba as a refugee in 1967 and eventually settled in New York City. She is a charter member of the Dance Theater of Harlem and created the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series.
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