Kennedy Center Honors 2017: Beyoncé, Oprah and more named

Jimmy Fallon hosts the awards for the 29th year as Washington stages a live primetime gala and wins praise for its commitment to inclusion and diversity

The 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors returned to the US capital on Friday night, bringing with it arguably the most familiar faces in American culture.

The public broadcast of the gala’s 29th anniversary made a return this year as an annual special, featuring stars such as Mariah Carey, Seal, and comedian Jimmy Fallon.

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Actor Jane Fonda spoke of the US’s changing racial and social landscape while American Operetta composer Jerry Herman paid tribute to his former lyricist Tony Randall.

The winner of the Mark Twain prize for American comedy, Tina Fey, was recognized for her work as one of America’s leading comedians in television and feature films.

As with all nights of the gala, a deal was struck between the politics of the moment and mainstream American values to unite the awards in ways past shows had not.

The first lady, Melania Trump, spoke before former vice-president Joe Biden, who attended to congratulate artists such as Shirley MacLaine and George Clooney. Vice-president Mike Pence was also in attendance with his wife, Karen. A recent article of faith of the Trump administration is that the arts and culture are an object of disdain, particularly as performative artists such as comedians and songwriters are drawn into the debate.

“Tonight our country celebrates the extraordinary talents of outstanding artists,” she said. “But the core message of our culture is that we are all the same.”

Juan Diego Botto holds his award during the Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, DC, on 7 December 2009. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

This year’s honorees included the Mexican-born Mexican composer, songwriter, and filmmaker Carlos Sotolongo Cervera, also known as Juan Diego Botto. The black-and-white group of Turkish artists, music, and theater, The Golden Horns, were also honored for more than a century of performing the first fully-black opera in the US.

That made the night’s eventual recipient, Catherine Martin, stand out. Martin is the chair of the production company behind the annual Oscar ceremonies, and was instrumental in turning the Hollywood awards show into a televised spectacle.

The orchestra leader Kent Nagano traveled from the musical opera world to bring his “dream of collaborating” with Martin into the big time.

The Kennedy Center Honors, described as “the cultural event of the year”, was established in 1981 and celebrates the cultural achievements of individuals through dance, opera, theater, music, and visual arts.

First Lady Melania Trump speaks as Vice-President Mike Pence listens on during the Kennedy Center Honors on Friday, 27 December 2017. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Last year the event included President Donald Trump in attendance, because his wife was a guest of Julia Roberts. A statement in the White House press office said that she “came to support the creative class”.

Tonight’s broadcast was also hosted by late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon, who won praise for his first speech last year.

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