WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington’s elite swayed to Motown and The Beach Boys as Hollywood descended on the capital on Sunday to pay tribute to five superstars who earned Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime contributions to the arts.
President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, attended the gala performance to honor singer Diana Ross, comic-actor Steve Martin, film director Martin Scorsese, Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson and pianist Leon Fleisher.
The award winners, seated in the presidential box on the balcony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, clapped, beamed and laughed as fellow actors and musicians played tribute to them.
Ross, the lead singer in the seminal 1960s trio “The Supremes,” lifted her hands above her head and swayed with the crowd as gospel singer Yolanda Adams brought down the house with her rendition of “Reach Out and Touch.”
Dressed in a white evening gown, Ross blew kisses and fingered the multicolored decoration hanging around her neck as she listened to Vanessa Williams, “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks and Ciara belt out songs that made Ross famous.
Martin, a comedian who began his career doing magic tricks and playing the banjo, was his typical light-hearted self in the balcony — playing along with jokes from actor and comedian Steve Carell and laughing at his trademark “Excuse me!” and “I’m a wild and crazy guy” lines.
“His act was that of an idiot savant, minus the savant,” said Carell to laughter as he paid tribute to Martin. “He’s a national treasure in the loosest sense of the term.”
Actor Robert DeNiro, director Francis Ford Coppola and actress Cameron Diaz took to the stage to honor Scorsese, an acclaimed film director whose work has ranged from 1976’s “Taxi Driver” to the Oscar-winning “The Departed.”
“Marty made his dreams come true, and he has made dreams come true for all of us who came before his camera,” Diaz said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an accomplished pianist who once hoped to be a concert musician, looked on eagerly from the presidential box as cellist Yo-Yo Ma paid homage to Fleisher.
Fleisher, 79, is regarded as one of the most distinguished classical and concert pianists of the 20th century. He started performing at age 8 and continued as an adult even after a nerve disease lost him the use of his right hand.
Art Garfunkel called Wilson, who wrote many of the Beach Boys’ hit songs, “our Mozart of rock and roll” who created “some of the finest three-minute miracles any of us have ever heard,” as he praised the man whose band helped personify California’s surf culture in the 1960s.
“Hootie and the Blowfish” brought a clapping and singing audience to its feet with a medley of some of Wilson’s best-known songs. In a scene reminiscent of Beach Boys concerts, though with a better-dressed, black tie-attired crowd, the audience laughed and tossed around dozens of giant beach balls that dropped into the theater.
The gala will be aired on television on December 26.
additional reporting by Karey Wutkowski