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Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal and others celebrated at Kennedy Center Honors

A group of formally dressed men and women applaud while standing in the balcony of a theater.
Mary Kouw
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CBS
Pictured (L-R): David Rubenstein, Deborah F. Rutter, Kennedy Center Honorees Barry Gibb, Dionne Warwick, Renée Fleming, Billy Crystal, Queen Latifah, Dr. Jill Biden, President Joe Biden, and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff at The 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors.

The stars came to D.C. Sunday to celebrate this year's Kennedy Center Honorees: Billy Crystal, Dionne Warwick, Renée Fleming, Barry Gibb and Queen Latifah, who became the first female rapper to win the prestigious award.

Among the artists who paid tribute to the Honorees were Kerry Washington, Jay Leno, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, Cynthia Erivo, Sigourney Weaver, Clive Davis, Missy Elliott and Ben Platt.

The Honorees sat in the box tier with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. Over the weekend, they attended a reception at The White House and a dinner hosted by the State Department. Here's a recap of the gala that will air on CBS-TV and stream on Paramount+ on Dec. 27.

Mickey Guyton (right) performs for Dionne Warwick at the 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors.
Gail Schulman / Gail Schulman/CBS
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CBS
Mickey Guyton performs for Dionne Warwick at the 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors.

Dionne Warwick (singer)

Known as a vocalist with impeccable phrasing and warmth, Warwick scored dozens of hit songs beginning in the 1960s. In the 1980s, she was one of the first celebrities to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic. Choreographer and actor Debbie Allen, a 2021 Kennedy Center Honoree, remembered the time Warwick visited a pediatric hospital.


"She was so overcome that she picked up one of the babies, gave them a hug and a kiss which created quite a stir because, by doing so, she dispelled the myth that you could catch aids through touch," Allen recalled.

In 1985, Warwick teamed up with Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder to record "That's What Friends Are For," a song that won two Grammys and raised millions of dollars for AIDS research. At the gala, her friend Gladys Knight performed "Say A Little Prayer," and Chloe Bailey sang "Walk on By."

Billy Crystal (actor, comedian, filmmaker)

"He can be edgy, but you always feel the human side of him and he's not afraid to show his emotion which is rare for most comedians," said Rob Reiner, who directed Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.

Crystal's co-star Meg Ryan said that acting with him "was effortless" and even gave him credit for that iconic scene in the deli. "The scene came really naturally to me and I really have Billy to thank for that," she joked.

A woman wearing a black formal gown speaks on stage at a theater with a diner scene in the background.
Gail Schulman / Gail Schulman/CBS
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CBS
Meg Ryan gave Billy Crystal credit for the iconic scene in the deli in When Harry Met Sally at The 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors.

Lin-Manuel Miranda performed a musical tribute to Crystal, the nine-time Academy Awards host. Whoopi Goldberg told the audience the Academy should give him a special Oscar for his legendary hosting skills and poignantly recalled the Comic Relief shows she did with Crystal and Robin Williams.

Queen Latifah (rapper, singer, and actress)

Queen Latifah is now the first female rapper to win a Kennedy Center Honor. With songs like "U.N.I.T.Y." and "Ladies First," she took on hip-hop at a time when it was even more male dominated than it is today. A number of female rappers came to the Kennedy Center to pay their respects, including M.C. Lyte, Monie Love, Missy Elliott and Rapsody.

President Joe Biden and First lady Jill Biden applaud Queen Latifah at the Kennedy Center Honors gala.
Mary Kouw / Mary Kouw/CBS
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CBS
President Joe Biden and First lady Jill Biden applaud Queen Latifah at the Kennedy Center Honors gala.

Kerry Washington explained that, when she was 8 years old, Dana Elaine Owens "flipped through a book of names and chose one as her own: Latifah, an Arabic name meaning gentle, kind and pleasant. This is how she saw herself. And then at age 17, when it was time to create her professional moniker, she added the title Queen. And in doing so, this young black woman from East Orange, New Jersey, crafted the lens through which the world would forever see her."

Renée Fleming (soprano)

Several opera stars came out to show their appreciation for Renée Fleming, a five-time Grammy winner and U.S. National Medal of Arts recipient. Angel Blue, Julia Bullock, Ailyn Perez, Nadine Sierra and Patrick Summers performed Rusalka's "Song to the Moon."

A woman in a blue formal gown clasps her hands together and smiles while several people in formal dress look at her and applaud.
Mary Kouw / Mary Kouw/CBS
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CBS
Pictured (L-R): Kennedy Center Honorees Barry Gibb, Dionne Warwick, Renée Fleming, Billy Crystal, and Queen Latifah

At the State Department dinner Saturday night, writer Ann Patchett said she became friends with Fleming after her novel Bel Canto was published. "Everybody thought it was a novel about her," Patchett said, "and it should have been ... because the soprano that I wrote about had a peerless coloratura voice that could stop time."

An older man wearing a dark suit and light-colored hat stands and applauds while other seated people around him applaud as well.
Mary Kouw / Mary Kouw/CBS
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CBS
Pictured (L-R): Barry Gibb, Dionne Warwick and Renée Fleming at The 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors.

Barry Gibb (singer, songwriter, record producer)

Guinness World Records and Billboard list Barry Gibb as one of the two most successful popular songwriters of all time, alongside Paul McCartney. With his late brothers Robin and Maurice, Barry Gibb helped the Bee Gees sell over 220 million records. Ariana DuBose, Little Big Town and Ben Platt were among the artists who performed some of his songs.

At the State Department dinner Saturday evening, Gibb said, "I know that without my brothers, I wouldn't be standing here." He also had a message: "I only have two words that have meant something to me for the last couple of years, and that is kindness and understanding. And we seem to be losing that. We're losing it in the rest of the world. And we need to grab it back as quickly as possible."

This story was edited for digital and audio by Rose Friedman.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.