The 31st annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington opened Sunday with Denzel Washington and Clint Eastwood toasting the night’s first honoree, Morgan Freeman.
According to Variety, Washington discussed the actor’s difficult road to stardom, which included years of bit parts and even a gig dancing behind Chita Rivera at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. He said the movie star’s memorable role in “Driving Miss Daisy” persuaded Hollywood that Freeman “could give truth to any character he played.”
The Oscar-winner’s love of blues was represented by musical tributes from B.B. King and Koko Taylor.
Other artists presented with the Kennedy Center’s prestigious life achievement award were Barbra Streisand, country singer George Jones, choreographer Twyla Tharp and British rockers Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who.
The 2008 Kennedy Center honorees, from left, musician Roger Daltry, musician Pete Townshend, dancer Twyla Tharp, actor Morgan Freeman, singer Barbra Streisand, and musician George Jones.
The show ended with the Streisand tribute, hosted by Queen Latifah and featuring musical salutes from Beyonce, Idina Menzel, Ne-Yo, Kelli O’Hara and Nathan Gunn.
The ceremony, attended by President Bush and other luminaries, was preceded by a weekend of festivities for the honorees. Saturday evening, an Artists Committee dinner took place at the State Dept., hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Previous honoree Eastwood emceed that evening’s highlight, the presentation of the colorful awards worn by each recipient. In addition, each honoree was lauded by a close colleague, including “Daisy” author Alfred Uhry for Freeman.
Prior to the gala, President and Mrs. Bush greeted honorees at a White House reception.
The Kennedy Center Honors airs Dec. 30 on CBS.