President Joe Biden greets George Clooney at a reception for Kennedy Center honorees in the East Room of the White House on Sunday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Singer Gladys Knight, Irish rock band U2, Cuban-born composer Tania Leon, Christian singer-songwriter Amy Grant and actor and filmmaker George Clooney were honored Sunday night at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The Kennedy Center Honors, which is to air on CBS the night of Dec. 28, took place at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Sunday when the honorees were celebrated for their lifetime artistic achievements.
During an honorees' reception earlier in the day at the White House's East Room, President Joe Biden said the event Sunday night was to celebrate "truly exceptional" artists who "embody the very spirit of 'We the people.'"
He praised Clooney for his character in overcoming obstacles, such as dyslexia, to become the Hollywood A-lister who maintains his sense of "deep empathy" for others.
"He travels to war zones to end genocides and war crimes, exposes war profiteers, helps refugees and advances the rights of journalists. Raises millions of dollars to support 9/11 first responders, victims of natural disasters; and advocates -- advocates who, along with him, are combatting hate.
"He knows the work remains unfinished, yet he is unrelenting and undaunted," Biden said. "That's character in real life."
The president described his love for Irish poets as he praised 22-time Grammy winners U2 for using their music as a "bridge between Ireland and America" while singing of "the unspeakable cost of hate and anger and division."
"At a moment when there's too much hate, too much anger, too much division here in America and, quite frankly around the world, we have to remember today, as their song goes, 'We're one, but we're not the same. We get to carry each other.'"
The president said Grant established contemporary Christian music as it is known today, and in the process has been nominated for 19 Grammys, six of which she won.
"You understand when you hear Amy Grant sing. Her voice is a true gift of God, and she shares it with everyone," Biden said.
He said that Grant calls music a "soul-enlarging experience" and hailed her efforts for the community in Tennessee.
"Everywhere you turn in Nashville you see Amy's fellowship," Biden said. "Established musical therapy at a children's hospital; for veterans struggling with wounds of war. Playing benefit concerts for a long list of worthy causes."
Biden said that Knight, a seven-time Grammy winner and member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame and Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, has "performed on the biggest stages, noting her performance alongside Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick on "That's What Friends Are For" for to raise funds for AIDs awareness in 1980.
"Gladys, your voice has spoken to what breaks our hearts, what tears us apart, what lifts our spirits, what brings us together, what makes us human," Biden said. "Gladys, you're truly one of the best things to ever to happen to any of us."
Biden lauded Leon as one of "the most important classical composers and conductors of our time" recounting her journey on a "Freedom Flight" to Miami during the Cuban Revolution before traveling to New York City, where she co-founded the Dance Theater in Harlem -- the first Black classical ballet company in the United States.
"It was President Kennedy who laid the groundwork for the Freedom Flights that brought Tania to America," he said. "Fifty-five years later, she now receives a Kennedy Center honors. And we thank her for breathing new sounds into the soul of the nation."
The ceremony also marked the first public appearance of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul Pelosi, since he was attacked by a hammer-wielding invader in their San Francisco home in October.
"I would like to single out one member of Congress who has been, for more than several decades, really devoted to the Kennedy Center -- and her husband of 60 years who's here with us, as well -- Nancy Pelosi," Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein said.