Kennedy Center Celebrates 2019 Honorees

Dec 9, 2019
Originally published on December 9, 2019 9:54 am
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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WILL I BE LOVED")

LINDA RONSTADT: (Singing) I've been cheated, been mistreated - when...

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I mean, maybe. But that voice got lots of love at the Kennedy Center last night. Linda Ronstadt is one of this year's Kennedy Center honorees. She was recognized along with actor Sally Field, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, the TV show "Sesame Street" and the band Earth, Wind & Fire. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on last night's celebration of artistic excellence.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Before the show, singer Trisha Yearwood told me her dream was to sound like Linda Ronstadt.

TRISHA YEARWOOD: There's a power in her vocal and there's a vulnerability in her vocal that I just - I think she's unmatched.

BLAIR: Linda Ronstadt retired from singing eight years ago. She has Parkinson's. But for four decades, she did everything - country, pop, new wave, jazz. She won 10 Grammy awards, including one for an album she made with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THOSE MEMORIES OF YOU")

EMMYLOU HARRIS, DOLLY PARTON AND LINDA RONSTADT: (Singing) Those memories of you still haunt me.

BLAIR: During the show, Emmylou Harris gave an emotional speech about her long friendship with Ronstadt.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER HONORS)

EMMYLOU HARRIS: Linda - my sister, my dear companion - thank you. And congratulations on your Kennedy Center Honor.

(APPLAUSE)

BLAIR: In the balcony with the other honorees, Ronstadt smiled and teared up. Sitting nearby was Sally Field.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FORREST GUMP")

SALLY FIELD: (As Mrs. Gump) Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you're going to get.

BLAIR: Field played Tom Hanks' mother in the movie "Forrest Gump." She won her first Oscar for "Norma Rae." And in "Smokey And The Bandit" with Burt Reynolds, she looked like she was having a ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT")

BURT REYNOLDS: (As Bandit) Go, girl, go.

FIELD: (As Carrie) I'm going. I'm going. I got the metal to the pedal and the thing to the floor and...

REYNOLDS: (As Bandit, laughing).

BLAIR: Field went from playing the perky Gidget on TV to winning Oscars and Emmys. She talked about what made this award special.

FIELD: I think we all feel that we're being recognized not just for a body of work, not just because we've been here a long time but because in some ways we've had - resonated in some specific way in the culture.

BLAIR: For Earth, Wind & Fire, that specific way is with songs that have bridged generations.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHINING STAR")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) You're a shining star, no matter who you are, shining bright to see what you could truly be - what you could truly be.

BLAIR: Maurice White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in the early 1970s. He died in 2016. He had Parkinson's. Singer Cynthia Erivo says she wakes up to their music.

CYNTHIA ERIVO: It gets me through the morning, gets me started. And there's romance in it, and there's love in it. I don't know. They make music for everyone.

BLAIR: Erivo performed a medley of Earth, Wind & Fire songs, including "Fantasy."

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER HONORS)

ERIVO: (Singing) Every man has a place. In his heart, there's a space. And the world can't erase his fantasies. Take a ride...

BLAIR: In a seemingly unusual pairing, Lars Ulrich, drummer for the heavy metal band Metallica, honored classical conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Turns out, they've performed together with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER HONORS)

LARS ULRICH: He can talk about a piece written in 500 A.D. just as passionately as he will address the merits of a hard rock anthem written in the 21st century.

BLAIR: Tilson Thomas is also known for championing the work of American composers, like Aaron Copland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS AND SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE OF AARON COPLAND'S "RODEO: HOE-DOWN")

BLAIR: Last night, "Sesame Street" became the first TV show to win a Kennedy Center Honor. The Muppets walked the red carpet.

FRANK OZ: (As Cookie Monster) Me just so happy to be here with all me friends.

BLAIR: Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he grew up loving "Sesame Street" and now his two boys do. He says the show teaches more than just the ABCs.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNEDY CENTER HONORS)

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: Healthy habits, social-emotional skills that foster mutual respect and kindness and acceptance of others - something we could all probably use a little more of, especially these days.

(APPLAUSE)

BLAIR: The 2019 Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast on CBS next Sunday.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.