Clooney, U2 among honorees at glitzy Washington gala
WASHINGTON: Film icon George Clooney and soul legend Gladys Knight are among an elite circle of stars receiving honors at Washington's Kennedy Center Sunday in the presence of President Joe Biden.
Hollywood A-listers and Washington politicos will also fete Irish rockers U2, Cuban-born US composer Tania Leon and contemporary Christian pop artist Amy Grant at the annual gala, a rare night of red carpet glamour in the US capital.
Biden will be joined by his wife Jill along with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff in the opera house's presidential box for the glittering celebration of one of the country's highest arts awards that's now in its 45th year.
Last winter, Biden returned presidential tradition to the high-wattage awards program -- the first time a sitting president had appeared at the event in five years.
Donald Trump opted out during his presidency, after several of the honored artists threatened to boycott the gala in his first year in office if the bombastic, divisive Republican were present.
Sunday's event promises a slate of star-studded tributes to those being inducted at the Kennedy Center, Washington's performing arts complex that serves as a living monument to slain president John F. Kennedy.
It comes on the heels of another highlight of the capital's holiday social season, a lavish state dinner hosted by the Bidens in honor of visiting French leader Emmanuel Macron.
Prior to Sunday evening's red carpet, the honorees and their families were scheduled to attend a private White House reception with the Bidens and other distinguished guests.
That follows a State Department dinner for the honored artists on Saturday.
And the weekend's main event was to include performances from fellow superstars paying homage to this year's inductees, a show set for broadcast on December 28 on US television network CBS.
Clooney, the revered actor and humanitarian who broke out in the 1990s on the television show "ER," was expected to be among the red carpet favorites along with his wife Amal, a human rights lawyer.
The 61-year-old Oscar winner is known for films including "The Descendants," "Syriana" and the "Ocean's Eleven" series, and also has a number of directing and producing credits to his name.
"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," he said in a statement. "To be mentioned in the same breath with the rest of these incredible artists is an honor."
"Midnight Train to Georgia" singer Knight, 78, echoed the sentiment, saying she's "humbled beyond words to be included amongst this prestigious group of individuals, both past and present."
"The Kennedy Center's commitment to the arts is unparalleled and I am so very grateful for this moment," said the artist dubbed "The Empress of Soul."
U2, the rock band that's sold some 170 million albums worldwide, accepts the award after winning 22 Grammys and putting out powerful tracks including "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
The Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy-award winning Leon, 79, has already won most recognitions available to her for her pioneering, sweeping compositions and chamber works.
She arrived stateside at age 24 as a refugee, a budding pianist who went on to shape the sound of American classical music, blending traditional elements with modern infusions of the Cuban folk rhythms of her youth.
And Grant, 62, is the first Christian music artist to ever go platinum, and has earned six Grammy awards.
She is the first contemporary Christian star the Kennedy Center has ever inducted, and said "never in my wildest dreams" did she envision receiving the honor.
"Through the years, I've watched so many of my heroes serenaded by colleagues and fellow artists, always moved by the ability of music and film to bring us together and to see the best in each other," Grant said in a statement.
"Thank you for widening the circle to include all of us."