Show business legends Robert Redford, Tina Turner, Tony Bennett, Julie Harris and ballerina Suzanne Farrell saw their careers celebrated by a host of film, stage and music stars at the annual Kennedy Center Honors.
The honorees took in the tributes Sunday night from box seats with President Bush and his wife, Laura.
Redford — actor, director and creator of the Sundance independent film festival — took some potshots from Paul Newman, his co-star in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting.”
Referring to Redford’s reputation for lateness, Newman said: “Backstage they think the only reason he’s even in the vicinity was because they told him this whole thing was yesterday.”
Willie Nelson performed “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” and “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” as his tribute to Redford.
Oprah Winfrey called herself “Tina’s biggest known groupie” and spoke of seeing Turner perform live, advising the audience at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: “Add that to the list of things you do before you die.”
In honor of Turner, Queen Latifah sang “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Melissa Etheridge sang “River Deep, Mountain High.” Beyonce got the crowd on their feet and didn’t miss a step even though her microphone went dead about halfway through her rendition of “Proud Mary.” It was quickly replaced and she finished the song.
Farrell was celebrated by her former colleague at the New York City Ballet, Jacques d’Amboise. The company, led by George Balanchine, “was the center of American ballet and she was the diamond in its crown,” d’Amboise said.
Farrell was the lead dancer in Balanchine-choreographed ballets such as “Meditation” and “The Nutcracker.” She founded her own company and now teaches ballet there.
Bennett was toasted with a jazzy interpretation of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Wynton Marsalis. Actress and singer Vanessa Williams sang “The Best Is Yet to Come,” and chanteuse Diana Krall performed “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Record producer Quincy Jones described Bennett as “a soulful messenger of American songs” and said, “Tony is the one who knows how to fly us to the moon and get us back.”
Harris, a longtime veteran of stage and screen and winner of a record six Tony awards, won kudos from Kevin Spacey, who called her performances “not tricks, but transformations.” Harris’ films include “The Member of the Wedding,” “East of Eden” and “Reflections in a Golden Eye.”
A troupe of Broadway divas including Tyne Daly, Christine Baranski, Leslie Uggams, Michelle Lee and Karen Ziemba performed “Broadway Baby” for Harris.
Earlier Sunday, the president welcomed members of the 28th annual class of honorees at a White House reception. “Each of these honorees, in a lifetime of achievement, has set a standard of excellence that is admired throughout the world,” he said.
The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast Dec. 27 on CBS.