Actor George Clooney, singer-songwriter Amy Grant, singer Gladys Knight, composer Tania León and rock group U2 were celebrated on Sunday for their contributions to the arts at a White House reception and a music-filled Kennedy Center Honors show.
The Kennedy Center event, now in its 45th year, recognizes stars from music, stage and screen for their contributions to American culture.
At a reception for the five honorees at the White House, President Joe Biden addressed each artist personally, praising their individual talents and saying they embodied the spirit of the country.
"Tonight, we celebrate a truly exceptional ... group of artists who embody the very spirit of 'We the People,'” Biden said.
The room was packed with celebrities, the White House's second star-studded event in recent days.
Actors Julia Roberts and Matt Damon were seated next to each other, in front of journalist Katie Couric. Former Washington, D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who was beaten defending the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was seated next to singer Eddie Vedder in the front row.
Inside the Kennedy Center opera house where the show was later held, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, who has been recovering after he was attacked in October in their San Francisco home, appeared in a balcony and got a standing ovation when they were recognized from the stage by David Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center's chairman.
The show highlighted the five artists' work, and represented a return to the times before the coronavirus pandemic began; on Sunday night, there was no requirement for testing or masking to attend, though many continue to die of the disease in the United States. Clooney, an actor and filmmaker who played a doctor on the popular NBC television show "ER" before launching a movie career that earned him two Academy Awards, said becoming a Kennedy Center honoree was a little daunting.
"I grew up in a little town in Kentucky and I watched it on TV," Clooney told reporters about the Kennedy Center Honors, referencing previous winners Jimmy Stewart and Robert Redford. "That's an exciting fraternity to be a part of."
Roberts and Clooney's father, Nick, along with actors Damon, Don Cheadle and Richard Kind appeared on the Kennedy Center stage to honor the filmmaker. "George's best and most important work is still ahead of him," his father said.
Roberts, who has co-starred in multiple films with Clooney, wore a floor-length gown with framed images of him on it.