President Obama waved to the crowd as first lady Michelle Obama and honorees Mel Brooks and Bruce Springsteen, along with Vice President Joseph R. Biden, applauded during the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday in Washington.
BY BERNIE BECKER and ASHLEY SOUTHALL
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Political and entertainment luminaries gathered here over the weekend for the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors, a two-day celebration that brings together some of the most influential figures in Washington and Hollywood.
The recipients of the award this year were Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, the mezzo-soprano and soprano Grace Bumbry and the jazz musician Dave Brubeck. A gala performance on Sunday night at the Kennedy Center capped off a busy weekend for the recipients, who also attended a dinner Saturday hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a Sunday reception with President Obama at the White House.
The performance, which was scheduled to include appearances by Meryl Streep, Aretha Franklin, Sting and Herbie Hancock, will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 29.
In remarks at the White House, Mr. Obama thanked the honorees for “the joy and the beauty” they brought to people’s lives.
“In times of war and sacrifice, the arts — and these artists — remind us to sing and to laugh and to live. In times of plenty, they challenge our conscience and implore us to remember the least among us,” Mr. Obama said. “In moments of division or doubt, they compel us to see the common values that we share; the ideals to which we aspire, even if we sometimes fall short. In days of hardship, they renew our hope that brighter days are still ahead.”
A 19-time Grammy winner firmly rooted in the Jersey Shore, Mr. Springsteen has made top-selling albums including 1975’s “Born to Run” — which, in addition to the title track, included “Thunder Road” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” — and 1984’s “Born in the U.S.A.” He has also won an Academy Award.
At the State Department dinner, which was emceed by the comedienne and 2003 honoree Carol Burnett, the violinist Itzhak Perlman spoke of how Mr. Springsteen, 60, who is known for his famously long concerts with his E Street Band, connected with his audience.
“He gives his audience what it wants, but he also lets them know what they want and helps teach them to want more,” said Mr. Perlman, also a 2003 honoree.
The dinner was also attended by Jon Stewart, Martin Short, Caroline Kennedy and Melissa Etheridge.
Mr. De Niro, 66, who was born in New York, won Oscars for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in the 1974 film “The Godfather: Part II” and 1980’s “Raging Bull,” in which he played the boxer Jake LaMotta under the direction of his longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese, a 2007 Kennedy Center Honor recipient. The two also worked together on, among other movies, “Goodfellas,” “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver.”
Mr. Brooks, who was born in Brooklyn, is among an elite group of performers who have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards. “The Producers,” a 1968 film that was retooled as a musical and brought to Broadway more than three decades later, captured 12 Tony Awards and won Mr. Brooks an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. At the State Department dinner, Mr. Brooks said becoming an honoree at age 83 was “better late than never.”
Susan Stroman, who directed the musical version of “The Producers,” said, “I don’t know anyone who loves being themselves as much as Mel Brooks loves being Mel Brooks.”
Mr. Brubeck is perhaps best known for “Time Out,” the 1959 album he made with the Dave Brubeck Quartet that included the single “Take Five.” According to event organizers, Mr. Brubeck, who turned 89 on Sunday, is believed to be the first honoree to celebrate a birthday on the day of the gala performance.
On Saturday night, former President Bill Clinton spoke of humming a portion of Mr. Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” to prove to the jazz pianist he was a fan.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Clinton recounted, he received a signed picture from Mr. Brubeck and the chart to the song. “It hangs in the music room of my home today,” Mr. Clinton said. “It hung in the White House every single day I was there.”
Ms. Bumbry, 72, made her debut at the Paris Opera in 1960, playing Amneris in “Aida.” She performed in honor of Marian Anderson at the first Kennedy Center Honors in 1978.
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