- President Biden on Sunday restored a Washington tradition by attending the Kennedy Center Honors.
- The annual event, which was postponed last year due to COVID-19, returned to full form this year.
- Biden also hosted a pre-ceremony reception at the White House that was attended by Harris.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Sunday returned a semblance of political normalcy to Washington with his much-heralded attendance at the Kennedy Center Honors, the first time that a commander-in-chief has attended the gala since 2016.
This year’s honorees for lifetime artistic achievements were Motown Records founder and legendary music executive Berry Gordy, “Saturday Night Live” creator and producer Lorne Michaels, actress and singer Bette Midler, opera singer Justino Díaz, and folk music icon Joni Mitchell.
The main event, held at the main opera house at the Kennedy Center, was in many ways a return to some of the pre-pandemic glamour that has been missing from the nation’s capital for nearly two years.
The Bidens, who have long spoke of their commitment to the arts, received a standing ovation from attendees.
The comedian David Letterman opened the event by expressing to the audience his happiness at a presence from the White House.
“Tonight, it is quite nice, very nice, to see the presidential box once again being occupied,” he said, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
He then quipped: “The same with the Oval Office.”
Former President Donald Trump, who had a famously frosty relationship with the arts and entertainment community after taking office in 2017, shunned the event during his first three years in office after several of the 2017 honorees threatened to boycott a White House reception if he took part in the program.
And last year, with health-related protocol surrounding COVID-19, the 2020 honorees had their events postponed until earlier this year. Those recipients included the choreographer and actress Debbie Allen, singer-songwriter Joan Baez, country music star Garth Brooks, the violinist Midori, and legendary actor Dick Van Dyke.
This year, the theater was fully occupied and there were no social-distancing restrictions, but attendees had to present proof of vaccination and recent negative COVID-19 tests.
Before the start of the Kennedy Center event, Biden also brought back another tradition — hosting the honorees at a White House reception.
“We welcome everyone back,” the president said to roughly 150 people in the East Room.
Guests at the reception included Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, diplomat Caroline Kennedy, the actor Steve Martin, and the musician Herbie Hancock.
“Our nation is stronger, more dynamic and more vibrant because of you,” Biden relayed to the honorees.
The ceremony will be broadcast on CBS on December 22.