Biden celebrates Joni Mitchell and Bette Midler at Kennedy Center Honors
President Joe Biden celebrates artists including Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell and Lorne Michaels on Sunday at the Kennedy Center Honors, bringing back presidential participation in the annual ceremony skipped by Republican Donald Trump.
Singer Justino Díaz and Motown founder Berry Gordy round out the group of artists selected by the Kennedy Center for top honors this year at a show that had been upended by politics and the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden, a Democrat who took over from Trump in January, held a black-tie ceremony for the five honorees at the White House ahead of the event in Washington, the sort of glamorous celebration that has become rare in a White House that has eschewed large gatherings in the COVID-19 era.
Trump did not hold such a reception during his four years in office and did not attend the show at the Kennedy Center itself.
The arts community largely did not object to that absence. Singer and actress Cher, an honoree in 2018 and an outspoken Trump critic, said she would have had to accept the award in a bathroom if Trump had come.
The awards recognize a lifetime of achievement in the performing arts.
Midler, a singer and actress, has received Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe awards for a career spanning decades, with album sales exceeding 30 million around the world.
Singer-songwriter Mitchell, a native Canadian known for songs such as “Both Sides, Now” and “Big Yellow Taxi,” is a multi-Grammy recipient and an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Michaels, also a native of Canada, is the creator and executive producer of the long-running NBC sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live.”
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, we’re in real trouble, and you make me laugh at myself a lot,” Biden said in remarks addressed to Michaels, noting the show has used seven comics to play him over the years.
Comedy and other art forms and cultural exports help the United States lead by the power of its example worldwide, the president said.
“Throughout my career, I’ve met nearly every world leader,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, not everyone sees satire that way. You’d all be in jail.”
Diaz, a bass-baritone opera singer from Puerto Rico, has performed with opera companies around the world.
Gordy, a songwriter and record producer from Detroit, founded the Motown record label that became synonymous with a jazz- and blues-influenced musical sound popularized by Black artists including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Lionel Richie, whose careers he helped shape. Gordy is also a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Peter Cooney)