Kennedy Center Honors: Glam, Power and a Presidential Kiss

  • Capital Connections ®
  • |
  • December 08, 2008

by Karen Feld

“Funny Girl,” Barbra Streisand, a familiar White House guest during the Clinton years, apparently felt right at home there Sunday evening, when President George W. Bush not only surprised the outspoken liberal by planting a kiss on her cheek, but when she walked into the men’s room while hubby James Brolin and a military aide blocked the door. Perhaps for the moment she thought she was back on the set of “Yentl,” where she played a young boy. The talented diva dramatically pulled the medal she was presented at the State Department the previous evening out from her cleavage so it dangled among a dozen or so long gold chains.

Streisand was honored later that evening at the annual star-studded Kennedy Center Honors along with actor Morgan Freeman, country crooner George Jones, choreographer Twyla Tharp, and rockers Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of the Who.

Queen Latifah pointed out the similarities between herself and Streisand: both crossed over “boundaries.” “Barbra played as well in East Orange as Flatbush. That was an inspiration to me,” Queen Latifah said. “Before Barbra, all the leading ladies looked alike. Barbra threw out the rule book and wrote a new one.” Streisand threw Queen Latifah a kiss from the presidential box.

Glenn Close, who starred in “Serving In Silence” – the groundbreaking film about a gay woman in the military – produced by Streisand, talked about Streisand’s vision and called her “head strong and provocative.”

Comedian/musician Jack Black, who wasn’t born when the Who became a phenomena, said he saw the rock musical, “Tommy” and immediately fell in love with the group. “It hit me like a torpedo in my third eye.” Black called the British group “the dragon slayers of emotionality.” When they performed soon after 9-11, “the sound that once meant hope and defiance to a generation, gave them the strength to carry on,” added Black, who called Roger and Pete, “musical warriors, who fought for the power of life.” Earlier at The White House Black grabbed one-time bad boy Daltrey’s arms and engaged him in a friendly wrestling match resulting in laughter.

President Bush got in the swing of things when the First Lady gave a tribute to fellow Texan, George Jones. She revealed, “My friends and I put thousands of coins in a jukebox to hear Jones.” Jones and the President, sat next to one another and appeared to share the same taste in country music – Allan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Shelby Lynne. They sang along with those paying tribute.

The innovative choreographer Twyla Tharp stays in shape by doing 75 push-ups daily. Sunday was the exception, she said. The State Department ceremony went so late Saturday evening that she didn’t get up to do her exercise routine the next morning.

Morgan Freeman was a late and somewhat reluctant supporter of President-elect Obama. His handlers barred him from talking politics this weekend, a weekend dedicated to the performing arts. The actor, who was once an extra in a Sammy Davis, Jr., film as well as a background dancer behind Chita Rivera at the 1964 New York World Fair, didn’t hit it big until he was in his fifties with his role as chauffeur in “Driving Miss Daisy.”

It was an emotional evening for the honorees and a tense one for those honoring them from the stage. “I didn’t want to stumble,” said Close. Honorees Streisand and Tharp looked as though they were critiquing those on stage paying tribute every step of the way.

At the end of the evening, a contented Daltrey quipped: “I wanted to be on stage singing to Streisand.”

Stars — Beyonce Knowles, Shelby Lynne, Queen Latifah, Glenn Close, Lily Tomlin, Donna Karan, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington– mingled with politicians – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, former congressional leaders Tom Daschle (Obama’s HHS pick), Dick Gebhardt and Newt Gingrich, cabinet secretaries Condoleezza Rice, Henry Paulson and Colin Powell at the dinner following the show. Of course, the Kennedy clan was represented: Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, Ethel Kennedy, Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Senate wannabe, Caroline, who wearing a bright blue sheer gown and sparkling necklace, graciously and charismatically hosted the 31st annual TV taping which airs on CBS, Dec. 30.

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