Berliner Tageblatt - Washington gala to honor top artists including Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal

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Washington gala to honor top artists including Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal
Washington gala to honor top artists including Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal / Photo: © AFP/File

Washington gala to honor top artists including Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal

A diverse class of music legends plus comedian Billy Crystal were set to give Washington a glow-up Sunday, in an evening celebrating the arts in the company of President Joe Biden for the annual Kennedy Center Honors.

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Hollywood A-listers gather once a year for a rare night of glitz in the US capital -- generally known more for buttoned-up business casual than black tie -- to celebrate their icons.

This year they include the beloved actor Crystal as well as rap pioneer Queen Latifah, soul legend Dionne Warwick, star soprano Renee Fleming and the sole surviving Bee Gee, Barry Gibb.

The annual event at the Kennedy Center -- Washington's performing arts complex that serves as a living monument to slain president John F. Kennedy -- will see the cream of the cultural crop mix with top politicians including Biden.

The inductees will be honored with seats in the opera house's presidential box as they receive the highest US arts award, which is now in its 46th year.

The Grammy-winning Latifah -- an actress and singer as well as a rapper, whose titles also include producer and label president –- released her debut album "All Hail The Queen" in 1989, making waves with its hit single "Ladies First."

It set the stage for her trailblazing career in hip-hop and eventual success in acting and producing.

Now 53, Queen Latifah has performed three times at the Kennedy Center Honors, for her peers LL Cool J, Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand.

When this year's inductees were announced over the summer, the entertainer said she was "humbled to be included in this incredible list of artists."

"When we started on this journey decades ago, we were often told, 'No.' No, you won't be able to leave New Jersey. No, if you rap you can't sing. No, singers can't become actresses. No, actors can't also produce," said the hit "U.N.I.T.Y." rapper.

"To now be recognized amongst so many multi-hyphenates feels unbelievable, not for just me and my team, but for our community."

- 'Glorious occasion' -

Crystal, known for an extensive comedic career marked by silver screen hits including "When Harry Met Sally," echoed the sentiment.

"I am overwhelmed to be part of this fantastic group of artists," he said.

"I started performing when I was five years old, making my parents and family laugh. Those laughs have carried me my entire life and career. I so wish they could be at the Kennedy Center for this glorious occasion."

Grammy-winning opera superstar Fleming, the 64-year-old considered one of the world's top sopranos, has a long history of collaboration with the Kennedy Center and has helmed top stages the world over.

She will add tonight's honor to her laundry list of accolades, including France's Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.

The 82-year-old Warwick -- whose hits include "Don't Make Me Over," "Walk On By" and "I Say a Little Prayer" -- receives the award after finding legions of new young fans thanks to her cheeky presence on the online platform formerly known as Twitter.

And disco king Gibb -- the Bee Gees are perhaps best known for soundtracking the film "Saturday Night Fever," with boogified smashes including "Stayin' Alive," "How Deep Is Your Love" and "Night Fever" -- accepts the honor after writing more than a thousand songs.

Along with songs for his band of brothers like "Nights On Broadway," Gibb wrote a slew of top hits including the theme to "Grease," "Islands in the Stream" and "Heartbreaker," which fellow inductee Warwick performed to acclaim.

Now 77, Gibb recalls telling his late brothers that "if you're just a group and you make records, you're not going to survive. You'll have your time, and then you're done."

"Build a reputation as songwriters," he said in quotes published by The Washington Post, "and you can live forever if you do that right."

Gloria Estefan, who received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2017, will host the gala for the third time.

An edited version will broadcast on December 27 on the US network CBS, as well as on the streaming service Paramount+.