Dec 5, 2021: Joni Mitchell, Berry Gordy Get Kennedy Center Honors

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Joni Mitchell at the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors

Joni Mitchell and Motown founder Berry Gordy were among the five Honorees selected to receive Kennedy Center Honors in 2021. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced their selection on July 21, along with Saturday Night Live creator and producer Lorne Michaels, Bette Midler, and operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz. The five Honorees received the 44th Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements at the annual national celebration of the arts in Washington, D.C. on December 5.

In the original press announcement, Mitchell said, “I wish my mother and father were alive to see this. It’s a long way from Saskatoon.”

Judy Collins praised her friend on the red carpet.

“The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates luminaries whose art and creativity have enriched us beyond measure,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “With his distinguished, deeply resonant voice and storied operatic career, Justino Díaz, stood on the stages of the world’s great opera houses and today stands as one of the greatest bass-baritones of our time; visionary music producer and songwriter Berry Gordy brought the quintessential soulfulness of Detroit into every home in America, elevating the Motown sound to become a national treasure; Lorne Michaels created the most enduring ‘must-see television’ with Saturday Night Live, a show that is both mirror and muse for life in America; an artistic tour de force and America’s Divine Miss M, Bette Midler has enjoyed an unrivaled and prolific career, entertaining millions with her wondrous voice and trademark comedic wit; and songstress Joni Mitchell, blends raw, deeply personal lyrics with her stunningly ethereal voice in 19 albums, becoming one of the most influential singer-songwriters and cultural figures in 20th-century popular music.”

Watch highlights from the event

Berry Gordy in 1964

“Growing up in Detroit, I was not only Black but the ‘black sheep’ of my family,” said Gordy. “I was a failure at everything I did until I was 29 years old.

“Throughout the years I’ve been blessed with many wonderful memories, but this—the Kennedy Center Honors—is one that will be forever in my heart.”

Related: Gordy and Smokey Robinson were the 2023 MusiCares Persons of the Year

Watch Smokey Robinson pay tribute to his best friend

Michaels said, “The Kennedy Center’s commitment to the performing arts has always been an important force in American culture. Being acknowledged here and included in this company is an honor in the truest sense. I am deeply grateful.”

Watch Steve Martin roast Michaels at the 2021 Honors

“I am stunned and grateful beyond words,” said the Divine Miss M. “For many years I have watched this broadcast celebrating the best talent in the performing arts that America has to offer, and I truly never imagined that I would find myself among these swans.”

Watch Melissa Manchester honor her friend of 50 years

The Kennedy Center Honors recipients are recognized for their contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television—and are confirmed by the Executive Committee of the Center’s Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.

Past recipients include Linda Ronstadt, Led Zeppelin, Dick Van Dyke, Eagles, Al Pacino, James Taylor, George Lucas, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Dolly Parton, Robert Redford, and dozens more.

Related: The members of Led Zeppelin were moved to tears at their 2012 Honors

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3 Comments so far

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  1. Skydog
    #1 Skydog 23 July, 2021, 12:54

    Bette Midler ???? That’s bottom fishing. I realize she has received accolades on Broadway, TV and in the movies but do not think it rises to being bestowed this type of honor. Perhaps they are rewarding her for constantly attacking the Trump administration along with other Conservatives.

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky 23 July, 2021, 14:54

      Skydog… Bette Midler has 3 Grammy Awards (including one for Record of the Year), 2 Tony Awards (including Best Actress in a Musical), 3 Emmy Awards and 2 Academy Award nominations (both for Best Actress). But whatever…

      Reply this comment
    • JCB
      JCB 23 December, 2021, 11:56

      It’s called the first amendment Skydog, and it is what separates us from authoritarian governments. She is a legend and deserves this award. And if you don’t understand that we have a wannabe dictator in our midst that needs to be called out for his desires I feel sorry for you.

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