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Elton John and Bernie Taupin Triumph at the Gershwin Prize Concert

They joined a parade of stars singing their tunes at an event you can see on PBS

spinner image Brandi Carlile, Bernie Taupin, Elton John, Garth Brooks and Joni Mitchell at the Gershwin Prize concert
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Left to Right: Taylor Hill/WireImage/Getty Images; Gavin Bond for Paramount Pictures; Shannon Finney/Getty Images; Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Elton John, 76, and his lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin, 73, had the time of their life at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, where they received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in a three-hour concert event on March 20 (cosponsored by AARP).

Here are some highlights to watch for when the event is televised April 8 at 8 p.m. on PBS and

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spinner image Garth Brooks singing into the microphone during his performance at the Gershwin Prize concert honoring Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Garth Brooks
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Half a century after their legendary debut, they looked back in wonder.

John and others, including Carole King, reminisced about his electrifying debut show at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles in 1970. Critic Robert Hilburn, 84, whose review ignited John’s career, appeared on a stage video screen (as did King), noting that John and Taupin signified a sea change in music. “It was a change after the turmoil of the ’60s,” said Hilburn. “We were going into a new style. [The songs] didn’t just sound good the first time you heard it; 50 years later, they sound fresh.”

spinner image Billy Porter speaking into a microphone onstage at the Gershwin Prize concert honoring Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Billy Porter
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And John sounded as fresh as the stars honoring him with renditions of his tunes: Joni Mitchell, 80, Garth Brooks, 62, Annie Lennox, 69, Billy Porter, 54 (who doubled as emcee), Metallica, Maren Morris, Charlie Puth, Jacob Lusk, Brandi Carlile and John’s band, preeminently virtuoso guitarist Davey Johnstone, 72, who shook his head at the composers’ incredibly efficient creative process. Taupin writes the lyrics alone and sends them to John. “Within a half hour, he’s got a song,” marveled Johnstone.

John joshed about the inconveniences of age, including another knee replacement.

He interrupting one song by saying, “I’m gonna stop and take my hearing aids out.” He apologized for his gait, explaining that he got one knee replaced two weeks ago and is about to get another, adding, “Thank you for putting up with my hobbling.” But he was utterly vital, pounding a big red piano like a British Jerry Lee Lewis and singing as well as ever, with a new resonance on the low notes. While seated, he and Taupin clapped and sang along as the stars interpreted their hits.

“This is the first time in my life where I’ve ever sat in the audience and listened to my band,” John noted. “I know they’re good — but they’re f------ fantastic! This has been like an acid trip for me tonight.”

John credited Taupin with saving him from a career in the service industry.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here,” John said. “He gets me the lyrics. And then I write the song. Without the lyrics, I’d be working in, you know, Walmart or something like that. Except we don’t have Walmarts in England yet. McDonald’s. No, I’d be working at a record store.” Taupin said, “It was him and me against the world.”

“We’ve both been through hell,” John said with tremulous emotion. “And we’ve come through the other side — and it feels good!”

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spinner image Brandi Carlile and Joni Mitchell onstage at the Gershwin Prize concert honoring Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Brandi Carlile, left, and Joni Mitchell
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Joni Mitchell made a John/Taupin tune her own.

Brandi Carlile, 42, who coaxed Mitchell to get back to performing in 2022 after her 2015 brain aneurysm and dueted with her at Mitchell’s 2023 Gershwin Prize show, introduced her. “She’s performing a song that holds a special meaning for her — so much so that she was given the green light by Elton and Bernie to change some of the lyrics to fit her. Which is honestly the most Joni Mitchell thing I think I’ve ever heard!” Carlile joined Annie Lennox to back Mitchell on “I’m Still Standing,” originally a song about a guy thumbing his nose at an ex-girlfriend. Mitchell, who now sings in a deep register with throaty authority, made it a jazzy anthem of her own defiant survival. On the last line (“I’m still standing!”), she held up her cane, and the audience erupted. Afterward, the illustrious vocalists did a three-way high five.

spinner image Metallica pose for a photo at the Gershwin Prize concert event
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Metallica rocked the house.

Led by James Hetfield, 60, the brilliant metal band gave the concert a jolting start with “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” Bereft of its quieter interludes, the tune rocked the house. The flute part became a tricky pizzicato guitar part, and if Hetfield didn’t outsing the original, he injected it with a whole new kind of energy. “Christ, that’s not easy, and they’re playing it so well!” John marveled.

American Idol star Jacob Lusk was even better.

Gabriels singer and American Idol star Lusk, resplendent in a white suit and bow tie with sharp black shoes, belted out “Bennie and the Jets” to John and Taupin in the front row, as they sang along. John often sings it with a deliberate thumping beat; Lusk pepped it up even more, earning the most exuberant standing ovation of the evening, except the one for the composer himself.

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spinner image Annie Lennox performing onstage during the Gershwin Prize concert honoring Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Annie Lennox
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It was a rare moment of political consensus in Washington.

Among those grooving to the performances of Elton John and his famous interpreters were powerful people who don’t often clap together. The audience included Reps. Nancy Pelosi, 83 (D-Calif.), Steve Scalise, 58 (R-La.), Bryan Steil, 43 (R-Wis.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz, 57 (D-Fla.), Seth Moulton, 45 (D-Mass.), and Mark Amodei, 65 (R-Nev.); Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, 73 (N.Y.), Patty Murray, 73 (Wash.), and Amy Klobuchar, 63 (Minn.); British Ambassador Karen Pierce, 64; and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, 53. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, 71, quipped, “It’s going to be bipartisan karaoke, and we have both sides coming together, because it shows the unifying effect of music.”

John and Taupin pledged allegiance to the United States.

“When I grew up as a little boy in suburban London, the only good music that I heard was American,” John said. “English music sucked.” Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Ray Charles changed his life. “I’m so proud to be British and to be here in America to receive this award, because all my heroes were American. Thank you, America, for the music you’ve given us all over the world.”

“Pretty much everything that I’ve written emanates from this country,” Taupin said. “Whether it’s the heartland, whether it’s the urban jungle, it’s all been a palette for everything. I’ve lived here most of my life, pretty much from 1970 on, and I have an American heart and American soul. I have an American family. I have an American wife. I have American children. I am America.”

“And yet he drives a Volvo,” joked John.

spinner image Elton John performing on the piano onstage with Bernie Taupin standing nearby
Elton John, left, and Bernie Taupin
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The highest highlight of all was Elton John at the keyboard.

John gave new life to “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Then Hayden (along with several people speaking from the audience) requested an encore. So he played the song that started it all, his 1970 hit “Your Song,” and made it a gift to us all.

Don’t miss this: Elton John and Bernie Taupin: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, April 8, 8 p.m. on PBS and

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