Al Pacino, James Taylor And The Eagles Are Honored At The Kennedy Center

Dec 5, 2016
Originally published on December 5, 2016 9:22 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's tough to have an event in Washington, D.C., without delving into politics in some way, even an arts event like the Kennedy Center Honors. Stephen Colbert was the emcee, and he greeted members of establishment Washington as, quote, "endangered swamp dwellers," rather. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the mood was festive, but a little bittersweet.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: This was the last annual Kennedy Center Honors President and Michelle Obama would attend as the first couple. Before the show, singer Aretha Franklin said she'll miss them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARETHA FRANKLIN: They were so wonderful. They're just so very, very elegant. And I hate to see them go.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED MARTHA ARGERICH SONG)

BLAIR: Honoree Martha Argerich is considered to be one of the greatest living classical pianists. She and the other honorees sat with the Obamas while other artists paid tribute to them, like actor Chris O'Donnell, who talked about working with the very intense Al Pacino.

(SOUNDBITE OF 39TH ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS)

CHRIS O'DONNELL: At one moment, Al would barely bubble and then, in a split second, explode a hundred feet in the air.

BLAIR: As he did in the 1979 movie "...And Justice For All."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL")

AL PACINO: (As Arthur Kirkland) You're out of order. You're out of order. The whole trial is out of order.

BLAIR: Last year, the Kennedy Center Honors were extended to the Eagles. At the time, founding member Glen Frye was too sick to attend the ceremony, so the group deferred the award until this year. Sadly, Frye died in January.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOTEL CALIFORNIA")

THE EAGLES: (Singing) On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair, warm smell of colitas rising up through the air.

BLAIR: Mavis Staples was honored for her 60-year career as a musical pioneer. Her late father was close with Martin Luther King Jr., and the Staples Singers provided the soundtrack to the civil rights movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL TAKE YOU THERE")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) I know a place. Ain't nobody crying. Ain't nobody worried.

BLAIR: Before the show, Mavis Staples got emotional talking about her late father.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAVIS STAPLES: He's walking around heaven right now, talking to the angels in their altars. And he's saying, that's my baby daughter, Mavis; she's being honored by the Kennedy Center.

BLAIR: James Taylor got a lot of love, including from Sheryl Crow, Yo-Yo Ma and even former President Bill Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE AND RAIN")

JAMES TAYLOR: (Singing) I've seen fire, and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend. But I always thought that I'd see you again.

BLAIR: A private White House reception before the show, President Obama said James Taylor's defining gift was empathy and praised the songwriter's honesty.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: James is the consummate truth-teller about a life that can leave us with more unresolved questions than satisfying answers but holds so much beauty that you don't mind.

BLAIR: The president said supporting artists at events like the Kennedy Center Honors is one of the perks of the job that he'll miss. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.