Ronstadt, ‘Sesame Street’ receive Kennedy Center Honors
Big Bird walked the red carpet along with Bert and Ernie, Abby, Cookie Monster
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Actress Sally Field, singer Linda Ronstadt and the disco-funk band Earth Wind and Fire shared the spotlight Sunday night as part of the latest group of recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts.
Also in this year’s class were conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and long-running children’s TV show “Sesame Street.”
Sunday’s event featured a genuinely unique event for the Kennedy Center as Big Bird walked the red carpet along with fellow “Sesame Street” characters Bert and Ernie, Abby and Cookie Monster, accompanied by their respective humans.
The massive yellow avian’s appearance held a particular resonance as Caroll Spinney, Big Bird’s original puppeteer, died earlier Sunday at age 85.
“I’m heartbroken that this happened on this particular day,” said Sonia Manzano, who played Maria for decades on “Sesame Street.” “But I’m glad we’re all together.”
As she entered the building, Field, who has won two Academy Awards and three Emmys, reflected on the unique nature of the Kennedy Center Honors medallion.
“It’s not about one performance. It’s not about being the flavor of the month,” she said. “it recognizes artists whose body of work has resonated over the years.”
Once again, the attendance of President Donald Trump was a topic of speculation until the White House said Friday that neither he nor first lady Melania Trump would attend. Trump skipped the past two celebrations; in 2017, multiple recipients threatened to boycott the event if he attended.
Tom Hanks, as the entered the building, pointed out that this annual tension seems unique to the Trump administration.
“We’ve been here for Republican presidents and we’ve been here for Democratic presidents,” he said. “We were all celebrating the arts in America.”
Each recipient is honored with a personalized presentation that in the past has in included surprise guests. Last year, Cher was shocked to find her friend Cyndi Lauper walking onstage to deliver a tribute; Lauper had said she would be out of town.
Don Henley, who received his own Kennedy Center Honor in 2016 as a member of the Eagles, praised Ronstadt’s “curiosity about multiple music styles” that led her to explore early country-rock, mainstream pop, Broadway and Mexican folk ballads.
“And Linda owned each and every genre she explored,” Henley said.
Carrie Underwood, Aaron Neville, Trisha Yearwood and Flor de Toloache, an all-female mariachi band, performed. No less an authority than Emmylou Harris described Ronstadt’s voice as “the most stunningly beautiful of our generation.”
Ronstadt, who retired from performing in 2009 due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease, wept openly in the honorees box as Harris spoke.
Hanks and Steven Spielberg, both previous Kennedy Center Honorees, paid tribute to Field. Hanks, who memorably played Field’s son in “Forrest Gump,” drew a laugh when he walked onstage by donning a familiar southern accent and drawling, “Hi Momma.”
Maura Tierney recalled working on the television show “ER,” where Fields’ played her unstable mother.
“Watching how she works had a profound effect on me as a human and as an artist,” Tierney said. “Thank you for being one of the most righteous kick-ass women I have ever had the pleasure to work with.”
The event will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 15.