When Eagles Got Kennedy Center Honors, Several Members Were Missing

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Recipients of the 2016 Kennedy Center honors, including members of the Eagles, James Taylor and Mavis Staples

Recipients of the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors, including members of the Eagles, James Taylor and Mavis Staples

In his final turn as host of the Annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington, D.C.,  President Barack Obama praised the Eagles and James Taylor, gospel/R&B great Mavis Staples, actor Al Pacino and pianist Martha Argerich on December 4, 2016.

The program was attended by political dignitaries as well as members of the arts community and the media.

The award, considered one of the highest compliments an artist can receive in the U.S., was especially bittersweet for Eagles, as the group was initially supposed to receive theirs a year earlier. At that time founding member Glenn Frey was ill so the band opted not to accept it at that time. Frey died on Jan. 18, 2016. Several former members were not selected to receive the honors: Don Felder, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon.

Watch President Obama’s opening remarks at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors

Staples, then 77, who came to prominence as a member of the Staple Singers, told the audience that it was, for her, “a joyous day…the best Christmas present! People ask me, ‘Mavis, when are you going to retire?’” she said. “Retire for what? I love what I’m doing and I intend to sing until I can’t sing no more, forever.”

President Obama praises Mavis Staples at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors.

When it came time for Eagles to receive their award, members Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh were joined by Cindy Frey, Glenn’s widow. Walsh’s brother-in-law Ringo Starr praised the band, then Bob Seger, the Kings of Leon, Vince Gill and singer Juanes, joined by guitarist Steve Vai, performed the band’s “Hotel California.” (In 2017, Gill subsequently joined the Eagles as a touring member. He continues with the band’s farewell tour that’s expected to last into 2025.)

Linda Ronstadt, who gave Glenn Frey and Don Henley’s careers a significant early boost as members of her band, narrated a video presentation.

“The Troubadour was the center of our musical universe,” she said, “and the place I met Don Henley, Glenn Frey and a lot of other musicians looking for their next song, their next paycheck or their next meal. I was putting together a touring band and hired Glenn, a great guitar player with an exquisite vocal range. And Don was an ideal drummer for a singer like me: he played simply, understood traditional music and was a brilliant vocalist.”

President Obama joked with the Eagles at the event but also noted “When you listen to the Eagles, you hear perfect harmony.”

Eagles fans had petitioned the organizers to allow former members Felder, Meisner and Leadon to be included. It was denied on Sept. 16. Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter wrote: “The Kennedy Center consulted with the Eagles and through that discussion, it was determined that the four band members–Don Henley, the late Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, and Joe Walsh–who ‘carried the torch’ will be awarded the Honors.”

Her statement went on to note: “This determination does not discredit the contributions of former band members.”

Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker sang some of Taylor’s biggest hits. Former President Bill Clinton praised the singer-songwriter, calling him “the sweet voice of our better angels.”

Watch Pres. Obama rib Taylor at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors

Watch a recap of the evening’s events

Others in attendance at the gala event included actors Don Cheadle and Sean Penn, Eagles manager Irving Azoff, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Aretha Franklin.

Related: Led Zeppelin was honored in 2012

Watch Seger remember Frey at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors

Eagles continue their farewell tour. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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  1. JCB
    #1 JCB 1 January, 2021, 09:11

    Disgusting that Leadon, Felder and especially Randy Meisner were not included. They have never been the same without Randy’s voice. Shameful.

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  2. Da Mick
    #2 Da Mick 5 December, 2021, 00:23

    Omitting members who contributed crucial aspects to the band’s history, while recognizing members who were essentially side men, or replacements for the originals who made those recordings gives you some idea of the shallow nature of the Eagles’ band culture. Glen Frey may be gone, but his poisonous and dictatorial attitudes live on.

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  3. Moe
    #3 Moe 5 December, 2021, 17:16

    Silly not to require Don Felder, but to play Hotel California… He had the musical idea, and included one of the best guitar solos…

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