The 45th Kennedy Center honorees take place this weekend, and the lifetime artistic achievements will be awarded to: actor George Clooney, Christian singer-songwriter Amy Grant, “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight, composer Tania León, and Irish rock band U2.
“There’s so many deserving individuals and ensembles, and there are only five slots each year,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in an interview. “So it is a really, really, really hard thing to do, and yet a great privilege.”
The nominees reacted with surprise and joy. “Growing up in a small town in Kentucky I could never have imagined that someday I’d be the one sitting in the balcony at the Kennedy Center Honors,” Clooney said in a statement. “To be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of these incredible artists is an honor. This is a genuinely exciting surprise for the whole Clooney family.”
Cuban-born composer Tania León, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year, also expressed her surprise. “To tell you the truth, I couldn’t get out of the chair,” León told the New York Times. “I hung up, I was like, ‘this is not happening. No, no, no, this is not happening.’ It’s sort of a reaction that you’re in disbelief of what you hear.”
Knight shared she was deeply humbled by the honor. “You could never have told me as a young girl starting my career that I would be honored on a stage such as this, with artists and humanitarians such as these—it just wouldn’t have seemed possible. It would have been the dream of all dreams,” the singer shared. “To be honored as a Kennedy Center Honoree is among the highlights of my career.”
Amy Grant, “Queen of Christian Pop,” was also overjoyed by the news. “I haven’t had anything hit me ever that’s made me feel so full of wonder,” Grant said.
Irish rock band U2—made up of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr.—reminisced on their first visit to America in their reaction to the news.
“In December 1980, we made our first trip across the Atlantic to America. Our first show was at The Ritz in New York City, the second, The Bayou in D.C. We had big dreams then, fueled in part by the commonly held belief at home that America smiles on Ireland,” they shared. “And it turned out to be true, yet again. But even in the wilder thoughts, we never imagined that 40 years on, we would be invited back to receive one of the nation’s greatest honours…It has been a four-decade love affair with the country and its people, its artists, and culture. We consider America to be a home away from home and we are very grateful to the Kennedy Center Honors for welcoming us into this great clan of extraordinary artists.”
Last year’s honorees were Justino Díaz, Berry Gordy, Lorne Michaels, Bette Midler, and Joni Mitchell.
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The Kennedy Center Honors gala—sponsored by CBS, Boeing, and Lugano Diamonds, among others—will take place on December 4, 2022, and be broadcast on Paramount+ on a later date.
Emily Burack (she/her) is the news writer for Town & Country, where she covers entertainment, culture, the royals, and a range of other subjects. Before joining T&C, she was the deputy managing editor at Hey Alma, a Jewish culture site. Follow her @emburack on Twitter and Instagram.