The 45th edition of the prestigious awards, presented for lifetime artistic achievements, will be held on Sunday, Dec. 4, on the Opera House stage at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on CBS at a later date as a two-hour prime-time special and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
U2 is the fifth band to receive the honor, following The Who (2008), Led Zeppelin (2012), Eagles (2016) and Earth, Wind & Fire (2019). Before 2008, the Kennedy Center Honors focused entirely on individuals. Brian Wilson was honored rather The Beach Boys, for example. U2 consists of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr.
Knight is the fifth Motown Records alumnus to receive the honor, following Stevie Wonder (1999), Smokey Robinson (2006), Diana Ross (2007) and Lionel Richie (2017). Last year, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. was saluted. Gladys Knight & the Pips had a long string of hits on Motown, including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye).”
Knight has won seven Grammys; impressively, in three different musical fields – pop, R&B and gospel. At the 1973 Grammys, Knight & the Pips became the first group to win in both pop (for “Neither One of Us”) and R&B (for the immortal “Midnight Train to Georgia,” one of the most classic recordings of the past half-century).
U2 has won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other group in history. Their Grammy haul includes two wins each for album of the year (The Joshua Tree and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), record of the year (“Beautiful Day” and “Walk On”) and song of the year (“Beautiful Day” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own”).
Grant has won six Grammys – all in the gospel field. Her most recent Grammy was best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album for Rock of Ages…Hymns & Faith in 2005. Grant was nominated for album, record and song of the year at the 1991 Grammys for her smash “Baby Baby,” a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and her album Heart in Motion, which made the top 10 on the Billboard 200.
Grant is among the very few gospel honorees in Kennedy Center Honors history. Marion Williams was a 1993 honoree.
León received a 2012 Grammy nomination for best contemporary classical composition for Inura for Voices, Strings and Percussion.
Knight & the Pips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. U2 were inducted in 2005.
Clooney is a two-time Oscar winner – best supporting actor for Syriana (2005) and best picture for co-producing Argo (2012). He has also been nominated for directing and writing Oscars. He received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2010 Emmy Awards. Clooney’s dozens of films include O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The soundtrack to that film topped the Billboard 200 in March 2002, after winning the Grammy for album of the year.
Grant’s husband, Vince Gill, has yet to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, but very well may someday. Such peers as Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire have been honored. Clooney’s aunt, the great pop and jazz singer Rosemary Clooney, was not chosen as an honoree. These awards are not presented posthumously, so there is no chance that she will be.
The 45th Kennedy Center Honors Gala concludes with a dinner in the Grand Foyer.
The Honors recipients are recognized for their contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television—and are confirmed by the executive committee of the Center’s board of trustees.
Deborah F. Rutter, Kennedy Center president, noted: “For nearly a half-century, the Kennedy Center Honors has represented the very best of America’s creative culture. The Honors is often referred to by past recipients as the pinnacle of awards because it recognizes not just one performance, album, or film, but esteems an artist’s cumulative body of work and influence over many decades…”
Done+Dusted, producers of the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize since 2018, have been selected as executive producers of the 45th annual Kennedy Center Honors. Done+Dusted will produce the show in association with ROK Productions, represented by Elizabeth Kelly, who will executive produce alongside David Jammy and Ian Stewart. The show will be directed by Alex Rudzinski.
Here are complete and unabridged statements from each of the 45th Kennedy Center Honorees:
“Growing up in a small town in Kentucky I could never have imagined that someday I’d be the one sitting in the balcony at the Kennedy Center Honors. To be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. This is a genuinely exciting surprise for the whole Clooney family.” –George Clooney
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine ever receiving this prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. Through the years, I’ve watched so many of my heroes serenaded by colleagues and fellow artists, always moved by the ability of music and film to bring us together and to see the best in each other. I cannot wait to celebrate with my fellow honorees, friends, and family. Thank you for widening the circle to include all of us.” –Amy Grant
“I’m humbled beyond words to be included amongst this prestigious group of individuals, both past and present. You could never have told me as a young girl starting my career that I would be honored on a stage such as this, with artists and humanitarians such as these—it just wouldn’t have seemed possible. It would have been the dream of all dreams. I have been blessed with so much in my life and this certainly stands with those achievements at the top of that list. To be honored as a Kennedy Center Honoree is among the highlights of my career. I stand here with my fans, my family, my friends, my team, and my faith in accepting such an amazing distinction. It is dedicated to all those who paved the path for me to be able to accomplish the wonderful blessings I’ve been able to receive. The Kennedy Center’s commitment to the arts is unparalleled and I am so very grateful for this moment.” –Gladys Knight
“Little did I imagine when studying in La Habana that life was going to grace me with such a distinction! My first thoughts went to my ancestors: they believed in my dreams, and what we lacked in material wealth, they made up for in spirit, encouragement, and support. My heartfelt thanks go to the many people who have blessed my path by helping my talent to blossom and by giving me the chance to be heard. I am incredibly humbled to join such a prestigious family of artists, and deeply grateful to the Kennedy Center for bestowing me with this incredible honor.” –Tania León
“In December 1980, we made our first trip across the Atlantic to America. Our first show was at The Ritz in New York City, the second, The Bayou in D.C. We had big dreams then, fueled in part by the commonly held belief at home that America smiles on Ireland. And it turned out to be true, yet again. But even in the wilder thoughts, we never imagined that 40 years on, we would be invited back to receive one of the nation’s greatest honours…It has been a four-decade love affair with the country and its people, its artists, and culture. We consider America to be a home away from home and we are very grateful to the Kennedy Center Honors for welcoming us into this great clan of extraordinary artists.” –U2 (Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.)