WASHINGTON – The 42nd annual Kennedy Center Honors had the nation’s capital rocking and rolling with several musical tributes and numerous celebrities. Sunday was a celebration for the new honorees: Linda Ronstadt, Sally Field, “Sesame Street,” Michael Tilson Thomas and Earth, Wind & Fire.
The ceremony will air on CBS Dec. 15 (8 p.m. EST/PST). However, so you don’t have to wait an entire week, we’ve assembled the night’s highlights. Here are some of the best moments of the star-studded evening.
Carrie Underwood belted out “Blue Bayou”
Underwood paid homage to Ronstadt by singing “Blue Bayou,” a Roy Orbison track the Queen of Rock covered in 1977. Sparkling in a silver gown, the “American Idol” winner showcased her strong vocals in a soulful rendition.
Underwood followed with a lively “When Will I Be Loved,” which prompted the audience to clap to the beat and Rita Wilson, who was in the audience, to sing along. A reference to the track made the night prior at a State Department dinner for the honorees resulted in Ronstadt speaking her mind about the president, Variety reports. When answering Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who wondered “when will I be loved,” Ronstadt advised “it’s when he stops enabling Donald Trump,” Variety reports. Field’s son Sam Greisman also tweeted of the exchange from his verified account.
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Tom Hanks honored his “Mama”
Field was honored by her onscreen son Tom Hanks, who took the opportunity to slip back into the titular character from 1994’s “Forrest Gump.” “Hey, Mama,” Hanks said in his character’s southern accent, causing the audience to erupt in laughter and applause.
He also ribbed Field for “The Flying Nun” which debuted in 1967 and ran for three seasons. “Not exactly, say Bette Davis in ‘Jezebel’ or Barbara Stanwyck in ‘The Lady Eve’ ” Hanks kidded.
On the carpet, the “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” star praised his co-star. “Sally just disappeared. She was just always the mom,” Hanks told USA TODAY. “(It’s) funny, when you work, you see each other, you have a cup of coffee in the hair and makeup trailer, you go over the day’s work and what your life has been like. Because we were friends prior to that, there was no maintenance to it, there was no work. There was just that pure, fabulous sharing of the day’s requirement as actors.”
Big Bird ruffled Hanks’ feathers
One of the biggest of the “Sesame Street” stars – Big Bird – was present for the celebration. “Has anyone seen anyone named Thanks?” Big Bird asked the audience. “I’m supposed to sit by him.” It turns out, he was looking for a T. Hanks (Tom Hanks).
“Oh, hi, Thanks! I’m Big Bird,” he told Hanks.
“Yeah, I figured that out!” Hanks replied.
Big Bird tried unsuccessfully to sit in Hanks’ lap before making his way to join his fellow “Sesame Street” residents onstage.
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“Sesame Street” puppeteer Caroll Spinney was remembered
Spinney, the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch died Sunday at home in Connecticut. He began his run with the children’s show in 1969 and retired in 2018, due to a neurological disorder called dystonia.
“We’re all saddened by this loss, and the tribute tonight to ‘Sesame Street’ is in his honor,” David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center’s board of trustees told the audience.
On the carpet, Peter Linz who voices Ernie, and Eric Jacobson who brings Bert to life, spoke to Spinney’s impact.
“Eric and I, and a lot of the puppeteers on ‘Sesame,’ we, like the rest of the world, grew up with Caroll and his characters,” said Linz, who described Spinney as a “role model” and “dear friend.”
“Getting to know him, was amazing,” said Jacobson. “And he came in every day thinking he had the best job in the world, and he wasn’t wrong. And he showed it, and through his work, he touched so many people’s lives.”
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Audra McDonald transported the audience “Somewhere” grand
McDonald’s vocals were quite the treat. The multi-Tony Award winner paid tribute to Tilson Thomas, first, with a performance of “Somewhere” composed by Leonard Bernstein. She then impressed the honoree with “I Got Rhythm” by George and Ira Gershwin. The conductor/composer watched the second number with his mouth agape.
A star-studded rendition of “September”
Earth, Wind & Fire were the last of the 2019 class to be honored for the evening. John Legend, Ne-Yo, Cynthia Erivo and the Jonas Brothers performed during the tribute and ended the show together on stage with a rousing rendition of the band’s classic “September.”
Prior to the show, Verdine White said the night sticks out as one the band’s highlights, and Philip Bailey agreed. “This is the highest of many moments that we’ve had in our 50-year career,” said Bailey. “Were’ stopping and really enjoying it.”
Contributing Hannah Yasharoff