In a dazzling, artistically significant show that has been called a Grammy Awards for grownups, singer/actors Reba McEntire, 63, and Cher, 72, composer Philip Glass, 81, and Weather Report cofounder Wayne Shorter, 85, entered the pantheon of American culture as honorees at the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors Dec. 2 in Washington, D.C. The show also gave a special honor to Hamilton creators Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire.
The distinguished audience, including Chief Justice John Roberts, 63, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, 78, gave standing ovations to practically everyone, starting with late Pres. George H.W. Bush, a frequent Kennedy Center Honors attendee, who got a tribute from the show’s host (and his friend) Gloria Estefan, 61, who called him “a gentle, kind man.”
Naturally, the awards were dominated by the grownup generation, and so were the stellar performances of their work. Kristin Chenoweth, 50, sang “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” from McEntire’s Broadway smash Annie Get Your Gun. Herbie Hancock, 78, played Shorter’s “Footprints,” and opera great Renee Fleming, 59, sang “Aurora Leigh,” which Shorter began composing at age 18.
Youngsters did well, too. McEntire’s daughter-in-law Kelly Clarkson, 36, sang “Fancy,” and Miranda, 38, sang “One Last Time” from Hamilton with the Voices of America Youth Choir to thunderous applause. Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste, 32, played a haunting piano piece from Glass’s “Glassworks,” after Glass’s sometime collaborator Paul Simon, 77, honored him as “America’s most influential classical composer.” With a wry grin, Simon joked, “As he approaches 82 next month, he shows no signs of slowing down … well, one or two signs.”
Adam Lambert, 36, and Cyndi Lauper, 65, brought huge smiles to Cher’s face by belting out her hits. Lambert performed “Believe,” the influential 1998 tune that made Cher, then 52, the oldest female solo artist to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Lauper, whose youthful look and galvanic performance subverted aging with style, sang “(If I Could) Turn Back Time,” then dueted with Lambert on the showstopper “I Got You Babe.”
Whoopi Goldberg, 63, the liveliest speaker of the evening, noted that Cher, along with Elvis and Sinatra, is among “the handful of performers who are instantly recognizable by just one name …. with a No. 1 single on the charts for six consecutive decades, she can also be called the mother of re-invention.”
The 41st Annual Kennedy Center Honors will be telecast Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.