The second year of George Stevens Jr. not producing the Kennedy Center Honors yielded some interesting things, spies tell me.
It was the first time in a while that any Kennedys participated. Caroline Kennedy sent her three kids– JFK’s grandkids– to do a reading. Aretha Franklin was in the audience, not on stage, but they cut to her “a lot” during the show especially when Brian Stokes Mitchell sang the national anthem. Aretha’s dates for the night were Clive Davis and Isiah Thomas. I’m told “Color Purple” star Cynthia Erivo was magnificent singing “The Impossible Dream.”
Despite Al Pacino’s induction (by Kevin Spacey, Chris O’Donnell, and Bobby Cannavale) some people complained that the new Kennedy Centers Honors has become “like the Grammys.” There was a nod to classical music with the induction of Martha Argerich. But otherwise, the show is like a jukebox– the Eagles, James Taylor, and Mavis Staples were all inducted, with lots of acts performing their songs.
Oddly, Ringo Starr showed up for the Eagles (Joe Walsh is his brother-in-law) but never mentioned that James Taylor was the first act signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records. Bob Seger, from Detroit like the late Glenn Frey, performed a song the two wrote together– “Heartbreak Tonight.”
James Taylor was inducted by President Bill Clinton, and Taylor was feted by Garth Brooks (but not Carole King and certainly not Carly Simon). Taylor brought his twin boys from his marriage to Caroline Reynolds. Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker also performed for Taylor, even though they have little connection to him. Like, Mavis Staples’ two biggest hits were sung by Elle King, whose “Exes and Ohs” is a great song, but really? (The Washington Post said she was a “country star.” Maybe because she lives in this country.) All the great R&B stars and they got Elle King to sing “I’ll Take You There.” Hmmm….
With three pop acts, there was no nod at all to Broadway. Pacino represented both theater and movies, I guess. Opera was covered in the Argerich section by Placido Domingo not singing but introducing a pianist, and Itzak Perlman performed for Argerich as well. But actual opera or jazz? Gone are the days of things like the fantastic Herbie Hancock tribute of a few years ago. Now it’s the hits, nothing but the hits.