Tonight CBS aired the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony which took place on December 6th of this year. The show honored Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro, opera singer Grace Bumbry, jazz musician Dave Brubeck and rock legend Bruce Springsteen.
Meryl Streep introduced De Niro, and after a short clip reel, Actors Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Sharon Stone and Ben Stiller paid tribute to the man by telling their own stories about working with one of the greatest living actors of our time. Well, except for the moments Stiller veered off and fawned over Springsteen and Brooks. To give an example of how De Niro approaches every scene with integrity, Martin Scorsese told a quick story from the filming of Taxi Driver. Referring to the scene where Scorsese appears as a deranged customer of Travis Bickle’s, De Niro informed Marty before they began: “I’m not just going to put that flag down. You’re going to make me do it.”
Dave Brubeck was introduced by Herbie Hancock as the reason Hancock “doesn’t have a day job.” Brubeck is best known for his performance of “Take Five”, from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album “Time Out.” The upbeat instrumental is perhaps one of the most recognizable popular jazz pieces, often used in movie soundtracks. Honoring Brubeck were the Brubeck All Stars and the Jazz Ambassadors of the U.S. Army Field Band, and in a surprise move, Brubeck’s four sons. The entire group launched into “Happy Birthday”, being that the day of the event was also Brubeck’s 89th birthday.
Mel Brooks was introduced by his one time comedy partner Carl Reiner. Jack Black, Martin Short, Richard Kind, Frank Langella, Matthew Broderick, Harry Connick Jr. and members of the Producers musical cast sang a medley of hits from Brooks movies such as Robin Hood: Men In Tights (Black), High Anxiety (Connick), Blazing Saddles (Short), History Of the World (Kind) and The Twelve Chairs (Langella). Before launching into his number, Langella advised President Obama to take the words of advice mentioned in his song: “Hope for the best, expect the worst.”
Opera singer Grace Bumbry, or as she’s known by her nickname “Black Venus”, was introduced by Aretha Franklin. Franklin told a story about a legendary Bumbry performance of “The Dance of The Seven Veils”, which ended with Bumbry in nothing but her “perfume and jewels.” The revelation that the now 72-year-old woman once appeared in her birthday suit at Covent Garden prompted the Queen of Soul to burst out “No you DIDN’T girlfriend!” Romania’s Angela Gheorghiu flew to D.C. to honor Bumbry with her own musical tribute.
Bruce Springsteen was the last to be honored, by a funny speech from The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. Stewart told a story about how as a young bartender in New Jersey, he’d play Springsteen every night in his 1976 Gremlin on his ride home after work. He said that when you listen to Springsteen, “You aren’t a loser. You are a character in an epic poem…about losers.” He praised The Boss for “emptying the tank” with every performance for his audience, and love for his art, family and country. After a thank you to Bruce for his work from Vietnam Veteran author Ron Kovic, John Mellencamp, Indiana’s answer to Springsteen, performed his own rendition of “Born In the USA.” Ben Harper and Jennifer Nettles did a scorching duet of “I’m On Fire”, Melissa Etheridge belted out a great cover of “Born To Run”, Eddie Vedder a mellow but passionate acoustic performance of “City Of Ruins”, and Sting ended the tribute with “The Rising”, backed up by a gospel choir, which got the whole building on their feet and singing.