Billy Porter, Kelli O'Hara, Ain't Too Proud, More Perform at 44th Kennedy Center Honors | Playbill

Awards Billy Porter, Kelli O'Hara, Ain't Too Proud, More Perform at 44th Kennedy Center Honors
 
The evening celebrated Bette Midler, Justino Díaz, Berry Gordy, Lorne Michaels, and Joni Mitchell.
From left: Bette Midler, Berry Gordy, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and President Biden
From left: Bette Midler, Berry Gordy, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and President Biden Jati Lindsay

A host of Broadway artists headed to Washington, D.C. December 5 to be part of the 44th Kennedy Center Honors. This year's event celebrated lifetime artistic achievements of stage and screen star Bette Midler, most recently on Broadway in a Tony-winning turn as Dolly Gallagher Levi in the revival of Hello, Dolly!; operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz; Motown founder, songwriter, producer, and director Berry Gordy; Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels; and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

The honorees received their medallions at a December 4 ceremony and were celebrated December 5 in an evening that opened with remarks by David Letterman and was produced by Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment.

The cast of Broadway's <i>Ain't Too Proud</i> helped celebrate Berry Gordy.
The cast of Broadway's Ain't Too Proud helped celebrate Berry Gordy. Michael Butcher

Three-time Tony recipient Chita Rivera honored singer Diaz, according to Deadline, while the tribute to Midler featured a medley of her hits performed by Tony and Emmy winner Billy Porter. Tony winner Kelli O'Hara also offered a rendition of Midler's Beaches anthem, "Wind Beneath My Wings." The Midler celebration also featured the cast of the recent Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! as well as appearances from Barbara Hershey, Goldie Hawn, Scarlett Johansson, and Melissa Manchester.

The cast of Broadway's Ain't Too Proud, which recently reopened at the Imperial Theatre, helped honor Motown founder Gordy, as did Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Andra Day. Celebrating singer and songwriter Mitchell were Norah Jones, Ellie Golding, Brandi Carlile, Brittany Howard, and Herbie Hancock.

Paying tribute to producer Michaels were singer Paul Simon, actor and comic Steve Martin, and a host of Saturday Night Live regulars: Kevin Nealon, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Colin Jost, and Michael Che.

2021 Kennedy Center honorees clockwise from top left: Lorne Michaels, Bette Midler, Berry Gordy, Joni Mitchell, and Justino Díaz
2021 Kennedy Center honorees clockwise from top left: Lorne Michaels, Bette Midler, Berry Gordy, Joni Mitchell, and Justino Díaz Photo by Scott Suchman/CBS

This year's celebration was also notable for the return of the involvement of the President of the United States in the weekend of events. Following four years in which his predecessor did not attend, President Joseph Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed the honorees in the East Room prior to the ceremony, which they also attended.

In his remarks at the Kennedy Center Honorees Reception, President Biden spoke about the recent death and legacy of Stephen Sondheim. The President later posted on Twitter, "Stephen Sondheim's work will be discovered and rediscovered for generations to come. As I mentioned during tonight’s Kennedy Center Honorees Reception at the White House, Sondheim was in a class of his own as a composer and lyricist."

The Honors Gala was recorded for broadcast; The 44th Annual Kennedy Center Honors will premiere on CBS December 22.

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