Last night Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, Merle Haggard, Jerry Hermand and Bill T. Jones were recognized with the Kennedy Center Honors, recognizing the impact each of the recipients has made upon the world.
Julia Roberts opened the show, despite expressing some nervousness, with a great anecdote.
“It’s a universal conversation starter: Did you see what was on ‘Oprah’ today?” Roberts said. “The first time I heard of a better fitting bra … or a fascinating politician named Barack Obama was on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’” And she wasn’t the only star who was there to sing Oprah’s praises…
John Travolta took the stage and recounted a phone call he got from Winfrey when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. She told him to fill his plane with medical supplies and meet her in Louisiana.
“So when Oprah calls, you answer,” he said. “Oprah makes it exciting to be responsible.”
Barbara Walters joked (or not) that she should get credit for jump-starting the 56-year-old Winfrey’s career. “Simply put, she is the best interviewer ever,” Walters said. “No one comes close – not even me. And those of you who know me know how painful it was for me to say that.”
Alec Baldwin introduced the tribute for McCartney, 68, lamenting the singer’s “long and winding road” to a solo career, being forced to sing in stadiums and requiring police protection. ”The National Institutes of Health called the epidemic Beatlemania,” Baldwin said. “There was no cure.”
Gwen Stefani and No Doubt opened the musical set, followed by performances by Dave Grohl, Norah Jones, Steven Tyler, James Taylor and Mavis Staples.
When The Beatles were storming America, Haggard, 73, was free from prison and making music, Herman, 79, was making Broadway sing and Jones, 58, was not yet a dancer but growing up in a migrant labor camp.
“Although the honorees on this stage each possess a staggering amount of talent, the truth is, they aren’t being recognized tonight simply because of their careers as great lyricists or songwriters or dancers or entertainers,” President Obama said. “Instead, they’re being honored for their unique ability to bring us closer together and to capture something larger about who we are – not just as Americans, but as human beings.”
For Haggard, Nashville turned out in force with performances by Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Vince Gill and Brad Paisley.
After the honors were announced in September, Jones, the son of potato pickers, said he could recall dreaming of big things as a 9-year-old boy in upstate New York. Jones said he could “feel the love” and said he was thrilled to be receiving the award while Obama is president. Still, he said he’s discouraged by the country’s direction. “I am trembling a little bit, actually. The discourse is so poisonous.”
The ceremony will air on Dec. 28th on CBS.