Tradition again: Biden celebrates Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell at Kennedy Center Honors

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden celebrates artists including Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell and Lorne Michaels on Sunday at the Kennedy Center Honors, replaying the presidential gala that Republican Donald Trump missed.

Singer Justino Diaz and Motown founder Berry Gordy wrapped up the lineup of artists selected by the Kennedy Center for Honors this year in a show that is upended by the politics and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden, a Democrat who took office from Trump in January, held a black-tie party for the five honorees at the White House ahead of the event in Washington, the kind of glamorous celebrations that have become rare in the White House that many have avoided. Gatherings in the era of COVID-19.

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Trump has not held such a reception during his four years in office and has not attended the show at the Kennedy Center itself.

The arts community has largely not objected to this absence. Singer and actress Cher, the 2018 honoree and outspoken Trump critic, said she would have had to accept the award in the bathroom if Trump had come.

Awards are given in recognition of a lifetime of achievement in the performing arts.

Midler, a singer and actress, has received Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe awards for a career spanning decades, with album sales exceeding 30 million worldwide.

Singer-songwriter Mitchell, a Canadian national known for songs like “Both Sides, Now” and “Big Yellow Taxi”, is a multiple Grammy Award winner and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Michaels, also a native of Canada, is the creator and executive producer of the long-running comedy show on NBC “Saturday Night Live”.

“If you can’t laugh at yourself, we’re in real trouble, and you make me laugh at myself a lot,” Biden said in remarks directed at Michaels, noting that the show has used seven comics to perform the role over the years.

The president said that comedy, other art forms, and cultural exports help the United States pioneer the power of its model around the world.

“Throughout my career, I’ve met almost every world leader,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, not everyone sees sarcasm that way. You’re all going to be in prison.”

Diaz, a Puerto Rican bass baritone opera singer, has performed with opera companies around the world.

Gordy, a Detroit-based songwriter and record producer, founded Motown Music Records that has become synonymous with the jazz-and-blues-influenced musical sound made famous by black artists including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Lionel Richie, whom he helped shape their careers. Gordy is also a recruiter to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Trevor Honeycutt); Editing by Peter Kony

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