John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts annually honours a select group of people for their artistic influences on American culture.

The room was packed with celebrities, the White House's second star-studded event in recent days.
The room was packed with celebrities, the White House's second star-studded event in recent days. (Reuters)

Actor George Clooney, singer-songwriter Amy Grant, singer Gladys Knight, composer Tania Leon and rock group U2 have been celebrated for their contributions to the arts at a White House reception and a music-filled Kennedy Center Honors show.

Sunday's Kennedy Center event, now in its 45th year, recognizes stars from music, stage and screen for their contributions to American culture.

At a reception for the five honourees at the White House, President Joe Biden addressed each artist personally, praising their individual talents and saying they embodied the spirit of the country. 

"Tonight, we celebrate a truly exceptional ... group of artists who embody the very spirit of 'We the People,'” Biden said.

The room was packed with celebrities, the White House's second star-studded event in recent days. 

Actors Julia Roberts and Matt Damon were seated next to each other, in front of journalist Katie Couric. Former Washington, DC police officer Michael Fanone, who was beaten defending the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, was seated next to singer Eddie Vedder in the front row.

Inside the Kennedy Center opera house where the show was later held, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, who has been recovering after he was attacked in October in their San Francisco home, appeared in a balcony and got a standing ovation when they were recognized from the stage by David Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center's chairman.

The show highlighted the five artists' work, and represented a return to the times before the coronavirus pandemic began; on Sunday night, there was no requirement for testing or masking to attend, though many continue to die of the disease in the United States. 

Clooney, an actor and filmmaker who played a doctor on the popular NBC television show "ER" before launching a movie career that earned him two Academy Awards, said becoming a Kennedy Center honouree was a little daunting.

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Crafted moments in time

Grant rose to prominence as a contemporary Christian music singer who later crossed over to pop stardom, amassing six Grammy Awards.

"I feel giddy," she said on the red carpet at the Kennedy Center before the show. "Mostly I feel a debt of gratitude," for all the people who have worked with her for four decades, she said. "Everything takes a village."

Knight, who has won seven Grammy Awards, is famous for hit songs including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Midnight Train to Georgia" as the lead singer of The Pips, which became Gladys Knight & The Pips in 1962.

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"She connects with you on a deeper, spiritual level," said actor LL Cool J, speaking onstage about Knight. Singers including Garth Brooks and Patti LaBelle performed some of Knight's songs.

Cuban-born Leon is a conductor as well as a composer, whose orchestral piece "Stride" won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

"Tania's pieces ... are crafted moments in time, inspired by art and history and nature," said composer and opera singer Alicia Hall Moran. She and husband Jason Moran, along with cellist Sterling Elliott, performed "Oh Yemanja" by León.

The final tribute of the evening went to Irish band U2 which, with members Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., has won 22 Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Source: Reuters