The “Kennedy Center Honors,” consistently one of the most surprising, compelling and entertaining programs of the year, airs at 9 p.m., Dec. 26 on CBS. Caroline Kennedy returns as host for the 10th consecutive year.
The gala ceremony took place on Dec. 2, and as is the tradition, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are seated with the honorees in the Presidential Box of the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, after hosting the traditional White House reception for the honorees.
Reportedly, the first lady was stunning in a spectacular Michael Kors creation.
Honorees at the 35th annual awards ceremony recognizing recipients for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures and television include Academy Award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, Tony Award-winning ballerina Natalia Makarova, multiple Grammy Award-winning American blues guitarist and jazz singer Buddy Guy, Emmy Award-winning late night talk show host David Letterman and multiple Grammy-winning rock band Led Zeppelin.
Performers and presenters include Alec Baldwin, Jeff Beck, Jack Black, Jason Bonham, Tracy Chapman, Gary Clark, Jr., Alina Cojocaru, Billy Connolly, Angel Corella, Robert DeNiro, Tina Fey, Foo Fighters, Morgan Freeman, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, Beth Hart, Judith Jamison, Julie Kent, Kid Rock, Jimmy Kimmel, Lenny Kravitz, Laura Osnes, Veronika Part, Tiler Peck, Grace Ann Pierce, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Romano, Liev Schreiber, Jimmie Vaughn, Naomi Watts, Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson.
A short biographical film was featured during each honoree's tribute, and the legendary Judith Jamison, former Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a 1999 Kennedy Center Honoree, paid tribute to Russian-born prima ballerina Natalia Makarova, who performed with Jamison in the American Ballet Theatre. "As a colleague and a great admirer, I'm so delighted that we honor her tonight," Jamison said.
Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman paid tribute to Buddy Guy, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, stating, "I first heard the blues sitting on my grandmother's porch in Mississippi - we called it "gut bucket music." You mastered the soul of that gut bucket music and used that as your starting point. You found a new music in it that no one had ever seen before. And without the Internet, without YouTube without even FM radio, you went viral. You went viral, Buddy Guy. You made a bridge from roots to rock and roll."
Tracy Chapman, who won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1988, performed "Hound Dog" in the tribute to Guy, and a definite highlight of the evening is the tribute to Led Zeppelin, which featured a rousing rendition of "Whole Lotta Love" by multiple Grammy Lenny Kravitz. The show ends with a high energy performance of Led Zeppelin's iconic "Stairway to Heaven," featuring Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson from the rock band Heart.
“When I Left Home: My Story by Buddy Guy” (with David Ritz; Da Capo, $26) tells the epic life story of one of the greatest players at the absolute nexus of modern blues. Guy recounts his journey from the “middle of nowhere” Louisiana to blues central Chicago and stages all over the world, playing with the likes of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Richards and his friend and idol, B.B. King.
“I followed the blues ever since I was a young child,” explained Guy. “Followed the blues from a plantation way out of nowhere to the knife-and-gun concrete jungle of Chicago. The blues took my life and turned it upside down. Had me going places and doing things that, when I look back, seem crazy. The blues turned me wild. The brought out something in me I didn’t even know was there. So here I am — a 75-year-old man sitting on a bar stool in a blues club, trying to figure out exactly how I got here. Anyway you look at it, it’s a helluva story.”
Guy was 13 years old when he heard John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” in 1949. his family, sharecroppers in Lettsworth, La., had just gotten electricity, and while the little electric bulb didn’t change much in their home, the phonograph sure did. “Boogie Chillen” uncovered something in Guy he didn’t know was there — a desire to play music. After inventing a few contraptions — window screen wires strung over tin cans and rubber bands stretched out and tacked to the wall — Guy’s father bought him his first guitar, a worn instrument with two strings, for $4.35. Guy’s life, he says, “ain’t never been the same since.”
In 1957, Chicago was home to Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy and Howlin’ Wolf — and 21-year-old Guy was eager to join them. Armed with his Les Paul Gibson and a rough demo cut he made at a local radio station in Baton Rouge, Guy moved to the big city to make blues his life. Unable to find a job, a gig or a way to talk to a record producer, Guy decided to call his father for a train ticket back home to Louisiana six months after his arrival. That same night, a stranger invited him to the 708 club, where Guy was asked onto the stage to play some blues alongside Otis Rush. A few hours later, after an electrifying performance that had the audience screaming for more, Guy was sitting in Muddy Waters’ red Chevy.
Guy began playing steady gigs across Chicago, building a reputation with his wild-man-on-stage persona, working as a songwriter and sessions guitarist for the Chicago blues men he admired and collaborating with Junior Wells. Guy wouldn’t record his own record until the late 1960s, but by that point he had already influenced Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The winner of six Grammys and Billboard magazine’s Century Award, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
“When I Left Home” tells Guy’s picaresque story in his own unique voice, that of a storyteller who remembers everything, including blues masters in their prime and the exploding, evolving culture of music that happened all around him.