This year’s Kennedy Center honorees Joni Mitchell, Bette Mider, Berry Gordy, Lorne Michaels and Justino Díaz were celebrated this weekend with a reception at The White House, a medallion ceremony at The Library of Congress and a splashy, black-tie event at the performing arts center’s Opera House. The tributes and performances were filmed for a special broadcast to air on CBS on Dec. 22.
President Joe Biden and the First Lady attended the gala event Sunday night, a return to tradition that did not go unnoticed by host David Letterman. “It is very nice to see the presidential box once again being occupied,” Letterman said. In President Trump’s four years in office, neither he nor Melania Trump attended the Kennedy Center Honors.
Joni Mitchell was honored for her timeless, emotional songs on such albums as Court and Spark — and Blue. “Poetically expansive” is how pianist and composer Herbie Hancock described Mitchell’s classic song Both Sides Now, which she wrote when she was in her early 20s. When Mitchell was nine years old, she contracted polio. The disease weakened her left hand. When Mitchell started playing ukulele and guitar, Hancock explained, she “devised her own tunings so she could access the emotionally complex chords that she was hearing in her mind.”
In 2015, Joni Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her.
“I think the polio was a rehearsal for the rest of my life,” she said after receiving her Kennedy Center Honor medallion. “I’ve had to come back several times, for one thing, and this last one was a real whopper. But you know, I’m hobbling along there. I’m doing all right,” she said to a hearty round of applause.
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