The rest of the evening was deeply musical. A sign reading “Gladys” in lights hung over the 78-year-old Knight’s set, where Garth Brooks joined the Pips for “Midnight Train to Georgia”; Mickey Guyton for “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me”; and Ariana DeBose for an incredible rocking version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The Pips left the stage as Patti LaBelle walked by and called out Brooks, Guyton and DeBose for a rousing rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For”.
Reporter Katie Couric hosted Grant’s segment, which featured performances by Sheryl Crow and the Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires) before gospel singers BeBe and CeCe Winans.
Previous honoree Carmen de Lavallade presented the tribute to composer León, 79, who left Cuba as a refugee at age 24 and received this award just one year after winning the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for music. It featured multiple performances, including vocalist Alicia Hall Moran’s resounding version of “Oh Yemanja” from the opera “Scourge of the Hyacinths” and a rendition of León’s Pulitzer Prize-winning composition “Stride” performed by the Kennedy Center Honors Orchestra, members of the Sphinx Organization, cellist Joe Kwon of the Avett Brothers and director Jeri Lynne Johnson. Actress Anna Deavere Smith narrated León’s life story from Cuba to the United States.
The night ended with praise for Irish rock band U2, known for their rock anthems, who received the honor on the verge of their fifth decade together. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder took the stage to play covers of “Elevation” and “One,” and Sean Penn gave a moving speech about the band’s prolific philanthropy.
Irreverent jokes kept the crowd laughing slightly, the final segment featured Ukrainian singer-songwriter Jamala, Irish musician Hozier and Carlile singing U2’s “Walk On” while many other performers of the night, including Morris, Reeves, Guyton and Crow, they joined. to close the event.