Kennedy Center Honors and its traditions are back once more

Justino Díaz, Lorne Michaels, Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Berry Gordy
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The Associated Press2021 Kennedy Center honorees, from left, Justino Díaz, Lorne Michaels, Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, and Berry Gordy pose following the Medallion Ceremony for the 44th annual Kennedy Center Honors on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at the Library of Congress in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

WASHINGTON — The Kennedy Center Honors is returning to tradition this year.

The lifetime achievement awards for artistic excellence will be presented Sunday night in a gala at the Kennedy Center’s main opera house after the coronavirus pandemic forced delays and major changes to last year’s plans.

Honorees include Motown Records creator Berry Gordy, “Saturday Night Live” mastermind Lorne Michaels, actress-singer Bette Midler, opera singer Justino Diaz and folk music legend Joni Mitchell.

This year’s event also represents a return to political normalcy, with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden planning to attend. The Democrat will be the first president to be at the Kennedy Center Honors since 2016.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump skipped the show the first three years he was in office after several of the artists honored in 2017, his first year in office, threatened to boycott a White House reception if the Republican participated.

The Trumps also scrapped a traditional White House ceremony for the honorees, which Biden is resuming. Presidents usually host a lighthearted gathering with the honorees at the White House before the awards ceremony.

Last year, the pandemic forced organizers to bump the annual December ceremony back to May 2021. Performance tributes to the artists were filmed over several nights and at multiple locations on campus.

This year’s main COVID-related modification was shifting the annual Saturday ceremony, where honorees receive their medallions on rainbow-colored ribbons, to the Library of Congress instead of the State Department.

Sunday’s ceremony, which will be broadcast Dec. 22 by CBS, is the centerpiece of the Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary of cultural programming. The center opened in 1971.

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