WASHINGTON — Irish rock group U2, actor-filmmaker George Clooney, singers Gladys Knight and Amy Grant, and composer-conductor Tania León will be hailed for their achievements in the arts during the 45th annual Kennedy Center Honors at the National Arts Center on Dec. 4 .
The Sunday night performance is the centerpiece of a weekend that includes a private dinner when the distinctive rainbow medals are awarded, and a gala for thousands of fundraising after the Opera House show. The production – with its top secret lineup of guests – will air on CBS later.
The 2022 winners represent the best in entertainment, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said, but they’ve also used their talents to inspire change.
“In any case, these are artists who do more than are performers. It’s artists as citizens who give back and improve the world through art,” Rutter said, referring to the philanthropic, humanitarian and educational contributions of each. “It’s about art about life. These artists are a mirror of who we are.”
The selection of knights wins this year’s “Why did it take so long?” category, an eternal question for the selection committee, according to Rutter.
“There are many people to the question ‘What took so long?’ list. That’s why this is so difficult. There are so many deserving artists,” Rutter said.
Knight, 78, performed a knockout rendition of Garth Brooks’ song, “We Shall Be Free,” last year as part of last year’s tribute to the country singer.
“I really enjoyed that performance. I was so excited they were thinking about having me a part of that,” Knight said by phone on Wednesday. She expressed her gratitude for being one of the last honorees, especially one so rich in music.
“I like all kinds of music, to be honest. Country and gospel have always been the two I go to,” said Knight, who led a 2002 fundraising campaign at the Kennedy Center for the American Diabetes Association, one of the charities she supports.
Knight was born in Georgia and started singing in her Baptist church’s youth choir when she was 4 years old. She was a child when she won the top prize on Ted Mack’s “Amateur Hour” show and 16 when she and her brother Bubba, sister Brenda and two cousins released their first record as The Pips. Two years later, the group became Gladys Knight and the Pips.
The Empress of Soul has released 38 records and won seven Grammy Awards in a career entering its seventh decade. Her most famous hits are ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, ‘If I Were Your Woman’ and ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
The Honors made her remember her amazing journey in music and her late mother’s contributions, Knight said.
“She chose all or most of the music I was doing,” she said. And my mother could sing too. She would get in right away, as we rehearsed. She listened to every little thing.”
U2 members Bono (Paul David Hewson), The Edge (David Howell Evans), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. met as teenagers and have been performing together since 1976. The group is known worldwide for its popular stadium tours and has released 14 studio albums. and won 22 Grammys. U2 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. It has supported human rights efforts around the world and contributed to campaigns to fight AIDS, poverty and cancer.
The band first performed in the United States in 1980.
“We had big dreams back then, fueled in part by the widespread belief at home that America smiles at Ireland,” the band members said in a statement from the arts center. “But even in the wilder minds, we never imagined that 40 years later we would be invited to receive one of the country’s greatest awards . . . It’s a four-decade love affair with the country and its people. , its artists and culture. We consider America a home away from home and we are deeply grateful to the Kennedy Center Honors for welcoming us to this amazing clan of extraordinary artists.”
Clooney, 61, began his career in television and became a household name for his portrayal of heartthrob Doug Ross on ‘ER’. He has won two Oscars, five Golden Globes and an Emmy as both artist and producer and is known worldwide for his work on films such as the Ocean’s film series, “Out of Sight”, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” and “Good Night and good luck.” In 2016, Clooney and his wife, Amal, established the Clooney Foundation for Justice to fight for human rights around the world.
“Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, I never imagined that one day I would be the one sitting on the balcony of the Kennedy Center Honors. To be mentioned in the same breath as the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. This is a really exciting surprise for the entire Clooney family,” Clooney said in a statement.
The musical career of six-time Grammy winner Grant, 61, spans more than 40 years and includes singles that have topped the pop, adult contemporary and contemporary Christian charts. Her best-known hits include “Baby Baby” and “The Next Time I Fall,” a duet with Peter Cetera and a series of popular Christmas albums. She is the first musician of the contemporary Christian genre to be honored by the Kennedy Center.
“It feels like an American cultural recognition, and that feels very different from anything else,” Grant said by phone on Wednesday. “It feels like thin air.”
Grant supports many philanthropic causes, including St. Jude Children’s Hospital, MusiCares, the Nashville Symphony, and Nashville Rescue Mission. She lives in Nashville with her husband, country musician Vince Gill, who performed in Honors tributes to Merle Haggard (2010) and the Eagles (2016). When the Kennedy Center called – Grant was in London with her daughter to see Gill perform with the Eagles – she thought the arts center was handing him the award.
“He is the most gifted musician I have ever known. I felt so humbled to be given this honor because the man I lay next to and sleep with every night is him. . . wow,” she said. “I have something to tell you, and this is him, when I told him… [about the honor] he opened his arms and I crawled on his lap and cried, and he said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ “
Recognized as an ambassador of new music, León is an award-winning composer, conductor and teacher who was a founding member of the Harlem Dance Theater and a lifelong advocate for the living composers of classical music.
The 79-year-old musician was surprised to hear of the honour.
“It’s a bit overwhelming. It’s the kind of surprise that makes you say “What?” she said. “Of course when it hits you, you get a movie in your head of all the things you’ve done, remembering the people who are gone, the ones who encouraged you from the beginning, starting with grandparents.”
León’s grandmother enrolled her in music lessons when she was a young child in Cuba. The classically trained pianist left for Miami in 1967 at the age of 24 to pursue a career as a concert pianist. She quickly moved to New York, and on her first trip to Harlem to replace a friend who was tutoring ballet classes there, she met famed dancer Arthur Mitchell. She left that gig with an invitation to work on his next project, which became the Dance Theater of Harlem.
“I had no idea who he was, I just enjoyed the piano,” said León, who became the group’s music director. “This is how life surprises you. To this day I don’t know how that happened.”
Mitchell encouraged her to write music and he choreographed a dance to her first composition. León was a New York Philharmonic’s New Music Advisor in the 1990s, conducted the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra several times and launched the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Community Concert Series. She founded Composers Now, an organization that commissions and advocates for living composers and taught generations of students at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center from 1985 until her retirement in 2019.
“I’ve always been a musician. I mold myself, reinvent myself, create myself. It’s still going on,” she says. “It happens the same way for every human being — we keep growing until it’s time to go.”
Her work “Stride” was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic as part of Project 19, an initiative launched in 2020 that premiered 19 works by 19 women to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment that made women the right to vote. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music 2021.
The Kennedy Center Honors 2022 is produced by Done+Dusted, the company behind the last three Mark Twain awards. Rutter said the move from White Cherry, who has been producing the show since 2015, is part of an effort to keep things fresh.