This year's Kennedy Center Honors will be going to Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine and Carlos Santana. Good for them, but better still for us as the awards program is routinely one of the most enjoyable entertainment events of the year. Those three, along with jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and opera singer Martina Arroyo, will be the guests of honor at the ceremony December 8, which will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 29.
Mandi Bierly called last year's event, whose honorees included David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman, and Led Zeppelin, the "year's best awards show." Why is it so great? Well, it's a perfect mix of high and low culture. The Honors dole out kudos to people everyone knows—Joel, for instance—and people everyone doesn't—Arroyo, on the other hand. At the event, rock bands sit next to ballerinas who sit next to the president.
The awards program certainly isn't perfect: Paul Harris of Variety notes that Santana is an important recipient considering feeling among the Hispanic community that their artists hadn't gotten their due. The ceremony, however, is genuine. You get the sense that the speakers and performers are there because they truly love and admire the people to whom they are playing tribute. This is no James Franco roast. Here are some other reasons, with video, for why the Kennedy Center Honors are so great.
The Recipient Reactions
It's often hilarious to watch the recipients as they see other artists interpret their work. Watch, for instance, Carol Burnett's glee as she sees peers like Elaine Stritch, Chita Rivera, and Julie Andrews interpret her legendary characters at the 2003 ceremony. As the performance goes on she starts to get emotional. It's lovely.
The Presidential Reactions
Keep an eye out for cutaways to the President laughing, grooving in his seat, or looking slightly uncomfortable. It's unfailingly amusing.
The Heartfelt Speeches
At the Honors last year, comedians wore their hearts on their sleeves to pay tribute to David Letterman. Never did I think I would write these words: Ray Romano made me tear up.
The Great Perfomances
Like, for instance, Beyoncé singing "The Way We Were" to Barbra Streisand in 2008.
Or the mix of musical styles on display for Yo-Yo Ma in 2011.
The Kind of Weird Performances
Like, for instance, No Doubt singing Beatles songs to Paul McCartney in 2010.
There are so many more gems from the years of the Kennedy Center Honors, many of which can appeal or not appeal to your particular tastes. This writer, for instance, perpetually re-watches the Julie Andrews tribute. YouTube has a plethora of them. Find your favorites.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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