The 2022 honorees represent the best in entertainment, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said, but they’ve also used their talents to inspire change.
“In each case, they are artists who do more than perform. They are artists as citizens who give back and make the world a better place through art,” Rutter said, citing each other’s philanthropic, humanitarian and educational contributions. “It’s about art for life. These artists are a mirror of who we are.
Knight’s selection wins this year’s “What took you so long?” category, an eternal question for the selection committee, Rutter said.
“There’s a lot of people on ‘What took so long?’ listing. That’s why it’s so difficult. There are so many deserving artists,” Rutter said.
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Knight, 78, performed Garth Brook’s song ‘We Shall Be Free’ brilliantly as part of last year’s tribute to the country singer.
“I had a lot of fun during this performance. I was so excited they thought about making me a part of that,” Knight said by phone Wednesday. She expressed her gratitude for being among the latest list of winners, 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 headlined a 2002 performance at the Kennedy Center for the American Diabetes Association, one of the charities she supports.
Born in Georgia, Knight began singing in her Baptist church’s youth choir when she was 4 years old. She was still a child when she won the grand prize on Ted Mack’s ‘Amateur Hour’ show and at 16 when she and her brother Bubba, sister Brenda and two cousins released their first record. under the name Pips. Two years later, the band became Gladys Knight and the Pips.
The Empress of Soul has released 38 records and won seven Grammy Awards in a career now in its seventh decade. Some of her best-known hits include “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 incredible journey in music and the contributions of her late mother, Knight said.
“She chose all or most of the music I was doing,” she said. “And my mother could sing too. She would go right in there, while we were rehearsing. She listened to every little thing.
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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. Known worldwide for their popular tours in stages, the group 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 against AIDS, poverty and cancer.
The group first performed in the United States in 1980.
“We had big dreams then, fueled in part by the widespread belief at home that America smiles on Ireland,” the band members said in a statement released by the arts center. “But even in the wildest thoughts, we never imagined that 40 years later we would be invited to receive one of the nation’s highest honors…It’s been a love affair of four decades with the country and its people, artists and culture.We consider America a home away from home and are so grateful to the Kennedy Center Honors for welcoming us into this great clan of extraordinary artists.
Clooney, 61, began his television career, becoming a household name for his portrayal of Doctor Doug Ross on ‘ER.’ He has won two Oscars, five Golden Globes and an Emmy as a performer and producer and is known worldwide for his work on such films 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 small town Kentucky, I could never have imagined that one day I would be sitting on the balcony of the Kennedy Center Honors. To be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. C This is a really exciting surprise for the entire Clooney family,” Clooney said in a statement.
The 61-year-old, six-time Grammy-winning Grant’s music career spans more than 40 years and includes singles that have topped the pop, adult contemporary and Christian contemporary charts. Among his best known hits are ‘Baby Baby’ and ‘The Next Time I Fall’, a duet with Peter Cetera and a series of popular Christmas albums. She is the first contemporary Christian musician to be honored by the Kennedy Center.
“It feels like an American cultural recognition, and it feels profoundly different from anything else,” Grant said by phone Wednesday. “It’s like rarefied air.”
Grant supports many philanthropic causes, including St. Jude Children’s Hospital, MusiCares, the Nashville Symphony, and the Nashville Rescue Mission. She lives in Nashville with her husband, country musician Vince Gill, who paid tribute to Merle Haggard (2010) and the Eagles (2016). When the Kennedy Center called — Grant was in London with her daughter to watch Gill play for the Eagles — she thought the arts center was offering her the prize.
“He’s the most gifted musician I’ve ever known. I felt so humbled to receive this honor because the man I lay next to and sleep with every night, he’s…wow “, she said. “I need to tell you something, and it’s so him, when I told him [about the honor] he opened his arms and I crawled into his lap and cried, and he said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ ”
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Recognized as an ambassador of new music, León is an award-winning composer, conductor and teacher who was one of the founders of Harlem’s Dance Theater and a lifelong advocate for living composers of classical music.
The 79-year-old musician was surprised to learn of the honor.
“It’s a bit overwhelming. It’s kind of a surprise that you say ‘What?’ ” she said. “Of course, when it sinks in, you start to have a film in your head of all that you have done, remembering the people who are no longer there, those who encouraged you from the beginning, starting with the grandparents.”
León’s grandmother enrolled her in music lessons as 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 soon moved to New York and on her first trip to Harlem to replace a friend who was accompanying ballet lessons there, she met the famous dancer Arthur Mitchell. She left that concert with an invitation to work on her 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 band’s musical director. “That’s how life surprises you. To this day, I don’t know how it happened.
Mitchell encouraged her to write music, and he choreographed a dance to her first composition. León served as new music advisor to the New York Philharmonic in the 1990s, conducted the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra on several occasions, and launched the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s community concert series. She founded Composers Now, an organization that commissions and champions living composers and taught generations of students at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center from 1985 until his retirement in 2019.
“I have always been a musician. I shape myself, reinvent myself, create myself. It’s still ongoing,” she said. “It happens to every human being the same way – 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 created 19 works by 19 women to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right of voting. He was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
The 2022 Kennedy Center Honors will be produced by Done+Dusted, the company behind the last three Mark Twain Awards. Rutter said the change to White Cherry, who has produced the show since 2016, is part of an effort to keep it fresh.