Kennedy Center Honors EP Details What to Expect From the Special

Kennedy Center Honors
John P. Filo/CBS

The Washington, D.C., salute to the arts hits a high note this year with its most musical fete ever.

On the list of legends are jazz great Wayne Shorter, pop icon Cher, country queen Reba McEntire, influential composer Philip Glass and, in a departure from past shows, the team behind the hit hip-hop musical Hamilton (top row: co-creators Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire). Executive producer Ricky Kirshner notes, “Each could have had an hour just for themselves.”

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For the first time, no one is being honored as an actor, dancer or other nonmusical artist. Even the host (Gloria Estefan) is a singer! “This is not a cookie-cutter show,” says exec producer and director Glenn Weiss. Here’s what you’ll see.


McEntire’s daughter-in-law Kelly Clarkson gives a moving tribute to her mentor and inspiration that leaves both teary-eyed. (Clarkson also belts out “Fancy.”) And Shorter succumbs too as an array of artists from Herbie Hancock to Esperanza Spalding perform his compositions. For “Aurora,” a full orchestra backs opera diva Renée Fleming.


Not only is Miranda the youngest honoree, at 38, but he’s the first to perform. Altogether, five original Hamilton cast members take the stage for a singing history lesson.


Paul Simon (a 2002 Kennedy Center pick) calls Glass, known for his eclectic work, “one of our greatest modern composers.” Some of the artists paying homage: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste, Chicago Med star S. Epatha Merkerson and rocker St. Vincent on electric guitar.


Whoopi Goldberg, wearing a glittery dress, explains her out-of-the-norm wardrobe choice to Cher by declaring, “I went into your closet.” The singer is also shocked to see pal Cyndi Lauper stride onstage and yells, “You told me you were going to Los Angeles!” Retorts Lauper: “I lied.”

The 41st Annual Kennedy Center Honors, Premieres, Wednesday, Dec. 26., 8/7c, CBS