The Kennedy Center Honors 2023

Billy Crystal; Renée Fleming; Barry Gibb; Queen Latifah; Dionne Warwick.

The Kennedy Center Honors 2023 was presented on Sunday, December 3. It will air on CBS-TV and stream on Paramount+ on Wednesday, December 27, at 9 pm ET/PT.  Honorees for lifetime artistic achievements: actor and comedian Billy Crystal; acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming; British singer-songwriter-producer and member of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb; rapper, singer, and actress Queen Latifah; and singer Dionne Warwick.

I first became aware of Billy Crystal when he portrayed Jodie Dallas on the sitcom Soap. Surprisingly, he appeared on Saturday Night Live in the 1984-1985 season, a show that generally which usually embraced less well-known performers.

Afterward, he appeared in several movies I saw: The Princess Bride (1987), When Harry Met Sally… (1989), City Slickers (1991), Mr. Saturday Night (1992), Analyze This (1997), and voicing a couple of the Monsters, Inc. movies.

Crystal has hosted the Academy Awards nine times and the Grammy Awards thrice, earning five Emmys for his work as host, writer, and producer on both shows. Robin Williams,  Whoopi Goldberg, and Crystal co-hosted “Comic Relief’s televised fundraising events on HBO, raising $75 million to help supply medical aid to the homeless…

“In 2022, Crystal returned to Broadway with Mr. Saturday Night, a musical adaptation of the 1992…film… The show received… five Tony® nominations, including Best Musical; Best Leading Actor in a Musical for Crystal; and Best Book of a Musical, which was written by Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel; and one Grammy® nomination for Best Musical Theatre Album which featured eight songs sung by Crystal.”

He is also an avid New York Yankees fan and has been a talking head for documentaries about Roger Maris (61*), Yogi Berra, and others.


I’ve seen Renée Fleming so often that I struggle to summarize it. I went to her Wikipedia page.

Fleming was featured in the PBS Great Performances New Year’s Eve telecast on Dec. 31, 2020. I saw that. At the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors awards ceremony broadcast on CBS, Fleming sang a jazz aria composed by honoree Wayne Shorter – check. On July 4, 2018, Fleming sang in the PBS telecast A Capitol Fourth from the West Lawn of the US Capitol, performing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and, during the fireworks display, “America the Beautiful” – yes.

She sang “You’ll Never Know” on the soundtrack of the film The Shape of Water. In the 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fleming’s Decca recording of “The Last Rose of Summer” is heard in the opening scene and in the middle of the movie.  I saw both of those movies.

And those are just the ones since 2016. She is a ubiquitous presence in my viewing of the arts.


I was enough of a fan of the brothers Gibb – Barry Gibb and his younger twin brothers Robin and Maurice – to know they were born in England but moved to Australia. They had some regional hits Down Under, such as Spicks and Specks, before they made it big with New York Mining Disaster 1941 (#14 in 1967), I’ve Got To Get A Message To You (#8 in 1968), Lonely Days (#3 in 1971), How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (#1 for four weeks in 1971), and several others before hitting a fallow patch.

They discovered a new sound in 1975 with Jive Talkin’ (#1 for two weeks), my admitted favorite BeeGees song, before the group exploded with the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, with the brothers writing not only their songs but others such as Yvonne Elliman’s If I Can’t Have You.

“Gibb was also unafraid to give away songs most performers wouldn’t dare part with, be it Frankie Valli’s “Grease” or younger brother Andy’s “I Just Want To Be Your Everything.” Both were solo compositions, and both became U.S. number ones. The hits continued in the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as entire albums of platinum-coated, Gibb-crafted songs for the likes of Barbra Streisand (‘Woman In Love’), Dionne Warwick (‘Heartbreaker’), Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (‘Islands In The Stream’)and Diana Ross(‘Chain Reaction’).”

I highly recommend the 2021  documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. It touches on the brothers’ success, including little brother Andy, and how painful it is for Barry that all three of his younger brothers have passed away.

The former Dana Owens

I’ll admit that I have no Queen Latifah albums, though I recognize her musical importance. I had heard Ladies First (feat. Monie Love). She won a Grammy for U.N.I.T.Y.

But I did see her in the movies Jungle Fever, and especially Chicago, where she played the prison matron Mama Morton and sang When You’re Good To Mama.

I’ve occasionally caught her on the TV action series The Equalizer, mainly because it was on after 60 Minutes.

The Bacharach/David interpreter

Dionne Warwick was the pre-eminent interpreter of the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Though some grumbled that she wasn’t singing the songs that black people were “supposed” to sing,  she had some success on the RB charts in the 1960s. These are just a few.

Don’t Make Me Over, #5 RB, #21 pop in 1963

Anyone Who Had A Heart, #2 AC (adult contemporary), #6 RB, #8 pop in 1964

Walk On By, #1 RB for three weeks, #6 pop, #7 AC in 1964

Message To Michael, #5 RB, #8 pop, #12 AC in 1966

One of my favorite songs of hers was the pairing with the Spinners, Then Came You, #1 pop, #2 RB, #3 AC in 1974

Her biggest song was That’s What Friends Are For with Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder, #1 for two weeks AC, #1 for three weeks RB, and #1 for four weeks pop in 1986.

I only realized this year that she and the late Gladys Crowder were born on the same day.

Comedian Billy Crystal turns 70

Billy Crystal attended Marshall University in Huntington, WV on a baseball scholarship,

One of the first fictional gay characters on US television was Jodie Dallas on the sitcom Soap, played by Billy Crystal from 1977 to 1981. The character’s development was limited by the folks in Standards and Practices, i.e., the censors, at ABC-TV. It WAS a very different time.

Billy spent the 1984-1985 season on Saturday Night, along with Christopher Guest and Martin Short. He did impressions based on actor Fernando Lamas and sports announcer Howard Cosell. He also did a wicked take on Muhammad Ali, which I saw him do with Ali present, probably on a special for the Champ’s 50th birthday special in 1992.

He appeared in movies that I saw such as Spinal Tap (1984) and The Princess Bride (1987) before his breakthrough role in When Harry Met Sally… (1989), featuring one of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

After he starred in City Slickers (1991), Crystal made his pitch as a legitimate artiste in the seriocomedy Mr. Saturday Night (1992), which he directed and co-wrote. It was an an uneven film, but it generated a Best Supporting Actor nod for David Paymer.

By this time, he was firm established in the mind of the public, performing in Comic Relief several times with Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams and playing Robert DeNiro’s shrink in Analyze This (1999).

Crystal also made game show appearances on The Hollywood Squares and The $20,000 Pyramid. “To this day, he holds the Pyramid franchise’s record for getting his contestant partner to the top of the pyramid in winner’s circle in the fastest time: 26 seconds.”

He hosted the Academy Awards nine times, beginning in 1990, when I thought he was quite funny, and most recently in 2012, when it was generally agreed that he was not.

Connecting with his well-established love of baseball, Crystal directed the made-for-TV movie 61* (2001), about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle pursuing Babe Ruth’s season home run record. This earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special. I learned that he attended Marshall University in Huntington, WV on a baseball scholarship, but never had a chance to play because the program was suspended during his first year.

He did quite a bit of voiceover work, including in Monsters Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013).

From watching the Tonys each year, I recall that “Crystal won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event for 700 Sundays, a two-act, one-man play, which he conceived and wrote about his parents and his childhood growing up on Long Island.”

I always figured that if I ever met Billy Crystal, I’d get along talking to my fellow Pisces about baseball.

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