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Must-See Key Moments from the 2023 Kennedy Center Honors

Get the inside preview on America’s top culture awards show, airing Dec. 27


spinner image Queen Latifah, Barry Gibb, Renée Fleming, Billy Crystal and Dionne Warwick pose together for a portrait as they are honored at the 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors
(Top row, left to right): Queen Latifah and Barry Gibb. (Bottom row, left to right) Renée Fleming, Billy Crystal and Dionne Warwick.
Mary Kouw/CBS

In what seemed like one standing ovation after another, a new class of Kennedy Center Honorees were saluted by a dazzling display of talent on Dec. 3 in the nation’s capital.

Comedian and actor Billy Crystal, 75; opera singer Renée Fleming, 64; British singer-songwriter and Bee Gees member Barry Gibb, 77; rapper, singer and actress Queen Latifah, 53; and singer Dionne Warwick, 82, sat alongside President Biden, 81, and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, 72, at a star-studded performance gala to celebrate their induction as the newest recipients of the lifetime achievement award for the arts. The lineup of stars who turn up to toast the honorees are traditionally kept under wraps – especially from the honorees themselves – until showtime.

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The 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Dec. 27 on CBS. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek inside the show:

spinner image Former Kennedy Center Honoree Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio Estefan, on the red carpet at the State Department for the Kennedy Center Honors gala dinner
(Left to right) Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio Estefan, arrive on the red carpet at the State Department for the Kennedy Center Honors gala dinner on Dec. 2, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Gloria Estefan made the audience stand up and take some action

The evening’s host (and 2017 Kennedy Center Honoree) Gloria Estefan, 66, opened the show by singing her hit “Get On Your Feet,” and led a shimmy-shaking line of dancers down the aisles of the Kennedy Center Opera House, which did, in fact, bring the crowd to its feet – something that usually doesn’t happen until the show’s finale.

spinner image Mickey Guyton and Dionne Warwick at the Kennedy Center Honors
(Left to right) Mickey Guyton and honoree Dionne Warwick
Gail Schulman/CBS; KENT NISHIMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Luminaries sang Dionne Warwick's praises

Country artist Mickey Guyton thanked Warwick “for never compromising that special magic that makes you you,” before singing Warwick’s 1974 hit with the Spinners, “Then Came You.” Then Chloe Bailey sang Warwick’s 1964 smash “Walk on By,” noting that “this song is timeless, just like Dionne Warwick herself.” Clive Davis, 91, the legendary producer who revived Warwick's career in the '80s after disco imperiled it, praised Warwick’s “timeless voice,” adding that “there is simply no song that Dionne Warwick cannot sing.” 2022 Kennedy Center Honoree Gladys Knight, 79, performed Warwick's classic tune “I Say a Little Prayer” to round out the tribute.

spinner image Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal at the Kennedy Center Honors
(Left to right) Meg Ryan and honoree Billy Crystal
Gail Schulman/CBS; KENT NISHIMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Meg Ryan gave Billy Crystal a warm greeting (no orgasm this time, however)

Meg Ryan, 62, appeared on stage in front of a replica of the When Harry Met Sally… diner set – yes, the one where she and Crystal shot their infamous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene. “I’m surprised they let me back in the place,” quipped Ryan. “I’ve never met anyone who made faking an orgasm easier. Thank you, Billy,” she joked. “Acting with Billy was effortless, the characters just came alive.”

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Whoopi Goldberg, 68, remarked that Crystal played the first openly gay character on a primetime sitcom (Jodie Dallas on the 1970s sitcom Soap). “It hit me: this man is fearless,” she said of her longtime friend. “He never stopped giving. Never forgot his roots. … because of him, I got to host the Oscars.”

Crystal, who has hosted the Academy Awards nine times, “should be given an honorary Oscar for all he has done for the Academy Awards,” said Goldberg quite seriously, with the crowd seemingly in agreement. “I said it. Maybe tonight will convince them.” She added that “the other person who should be standing here is our brother, Robin,” speaking of fellow comedic great Robin Williams, who died in 2014.

spinner image Robert De Niro, first lady Jill Biden and President Joe Biden at the Kennedy Center Honors
(Left to right) Robert De Niro, first lady Jill Biden and President Joe Biden
Gail Schulman/CBS; Greg Allen/Invision/AP

Robert De Niro made a statement on age

With a crowd jam-packed with the president, first lady and Washington’s elite, there is bound to be a political message of some sort, and this year was no exception. 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree Robert De Niro, 80, also a part of Crystal’s salute, declared that Crystal has “done so much in a short amount of time." He made Crystal’s jaw drop to the floor when he added, “You’re only 75. That means you’re about six years away from being the perfect age to be elected President.” The comment garnered cheers from the crowd and big laughs and smiles from the president and his wife.

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spinner image Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah and Kerry Washington at the Kennedy Center Honors
(Left to right) Missy Elliott, honoree Queen Latifah and Kerry Washington
Gail Schulman/CBS; KENT NISHIMURA/AFP via Getty Images; Gail Schulman/CBS

Queen Latifah got a royal welcome

Kerry Washington took to the stage to honor multi-hyphenate Queen Latifah. “She is a revelation, a force … a queen,” said Washington. “Tonight, we will all hail her brilliance.” Born Dana Owens, she chose Queen Latifah as her professional name and was “reborn as royalty,” noted Washington, who “spent many years admiring her, looking up to her example.” Rapper Missy Elliott, 52, recalled being in high school and watching videos of Queen Latifah singing “Ladies First.” She was “changing the narrative,” said Elliott. “She was saying, ‘You will respect me. I won't just set the bar. I am the bar.’"

spinner image Sigourney Weaver and Renée Fleming at the Kennedy Center Honors
(Left to right) Sigourney Weaver and honoree Renée Fleming
Gail Schulman/CBS; KENT NISHIMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Renée Fleming earned kudos for her singing and acting

Robert De Niro returned to the stage for Fleming, noting the opera singer was “no stranger to this beautiful opera house.” Christine Baranski, 71, spoke of Fleming’s “voice of creamy elegance,” and how she is a “person of great depth and genuine warmth.” Sigourney Weaver, 74, hailed Fleming’s acting chops, and said she is “a woman we recognize as one of us … she always keeps it real.” A quartet of opera singers performed the Fleming classic “Song to the Moon” from Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka to close out the tribute.

spinner image Michael Bublé and Barry Gibb at the Kennedy Center Honors
(Left to right) Michael Bublé and honoree Barry Gibb
Paul Morigi/Getty Images; KENT NISHIMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Bublé honored a dancin’ man who just can’t lose

The show concluded with the tribute for Gibb, who said, in a video clip from a Saturday evening State Department dinner for the honorees, that “this is the most incredible honor of my life, and I know without my brothers I would not be standing here.” (Gibb’s brothers and fellow members of the Bee Gees, Maurice and Robin, passed away in 2003 and 2012 respectively). Country group Little Big Town performed “Lonely Days,” with member Phillip Sweet calling Gibb a “once in a lifetime artist.” Smooth crooner Michael Bublé called Gibb “a hopeless romantic,” and sang the Bee Gees hit “How Can you Mend a Broken Heart.”

“He’s not just a man with a sensitive side but someone with real emotional intelligence,” said Bublé. Beneath a glittering disco ball, Academy Award-winning singer Ariana DeBose closed out the show with a medley of his hits, including “How Deep is Your Love” and “Stayin’ Alive,” calling them “songs that have soundtracked a generation.”

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