American President Joe Biden hosted a reception at the White House on Sunday night for the annual Kennedy Centre Honours, celebrating the work of artistes including the band U2, actor George Clooney, singers Amy Grant and Gladys Knight, and composer Tania Leon.
“Thank you for showing us the power of the arts,” Biden said, praising them as a “truly exceptional” group.
This is the second year the Bidens have hosted a party for the honorees after former president Donald Trump discontinued the tradition and the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the ceremony in 2020.
Biden singled out each of the honorees, highlighting his or her accomplishments.
He said Clooney had portrayed iconic characters, but also paid tribute to his work off-screen as an advocate for human rights.
“He travels to war zones to end genocides and war crimes, exposes war profiteering, helps refugees and advances the rights of journalists,” said the President.
Turning to Knight, Biden listed the many accomplishments of her musical career, and spoke of attending one of her performances decades ago at the Delaware State Fair.
“Your voice has spoken to what breaks our hearts, what tears us apart, what lifts our spirits and brings us together, what makes us human,” said Biden. “Gladys, you’re truly one of the best things to ever happen to me.”
Speaking about Christian singer Grant’s work, Biden said “singing is praying twice”. And he praised Leon’s work founding the country’s first black classical ballet company.
The President said U2’s music had changed the world. “U2 has spoken to some of the unspeakable costs of hate and anger and division, the pain and suffering and denial of freedom, senseless loss of life, and the inhumanity we inflict on one another, as a nation, as a people, and in our own lives,” he said.
Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan and actors Matt Damon and Julia Roberts were among the guests at the White House reception.
Actor Sean Penn, journalist Katie Couric, and musicians Garth Brooks, wearing a black hat, and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam were also in attendance. Clooney was accompanied by his wife Amal.
Following the reception, the President, First Lady and honorees were slated to head to the Kennedy Centre’s Opera House for a performance honoring the nominees.
Trump skipped the ceremony at the Kennedy Centre in 2017 after two honorees, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade, said they planned to skip the reception at the White House because of political disagreements with the president.
Trump again opted against attending in 2018, when prominent critic Cher was being awarded, and in 2019, when the show Sesame Street was recognized.
That came a year after Trump proposed zeroing out federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in his annual budget.
In 2020, the Kennedy Centre postponed the event due to the coronavirus pandemic.