The Kennedy Center Honors have occurred annually, since 1977. The television broadcast of the awards, celebrating the arts and the distinctive artists selected, has been an after-Christmas favorite since 1978. The 2018 class to receive Kennedy Center Honors included Country Music queen Reba McEntire, composer Philip Glass, legendary jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pop music icon and actress Cher, and for the first time ever, a tribute to the production of “Hamilton.”

The annual cavalcade of creativity does more than celebrate individual lives. The evening provides a pause, for needed reflection on the value of song, dance, movement, and performance, and reminds anyone watching that a creative conveyance is powerful beyond a momentary diversion.

In a time when political and social divides seem to be dominating, this celebration lifts diversity and inclusion in a way that no other presentation can. While the Commander-In-Chief chose to use his clandestine visit to Iraq as a political campaign stop, viewers of the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors on December 26 got to see another vision of the nation at its best.

Powerful emotion and intimately personal words flowed from the stage to be honorees, and millions of hearts could not help but be moved.

Stirring spirit

Gloria Estefan served as host of this year's Kennedy Center Honors, and the Latin songstress not only gushed with genuine personal delight for each of the honorees, but she opened the proceedings, on December 2, with very personal words of regard for president HW Bush, who had just passed.

Reba McEntire was first to be celebrated, and omnipresent country music broadcaster and producer, Bobby Bones, shared his experience as a young man, sitting up in “nosebleed section 99 Z,” and still feeling personally touched by Reba. Later, upon meeting the iconic redhead, up close and personal, the same feeling prevailed, because, as he described, “you ever have a false moment with Reba, because she's so real.”

Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum had her own personal stories of touring with Reba, and growing up learning lessons that the leading lady of country music didn’t even realize she was teaching, about hard work and delivering one’s best.

Melissa Peterman, too, pushed back tears as she remembered starring in “Reba,” the TV show, with McEntire, expressing how much the star “changed people's lives” and never relied on her star status.

Sister Oklahoman, Kristin Chenoweth, delivered a vivacious “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” from “Annie Get Your Gun” which starred Reba McEntire.

Her playful, winks, shakes, and points spoke straight to the honoree in the box.

Emotion prevailed over performances for Wayne Shorter as well. The saxophonist’s eyes welled with tears simply in hearing the opening remarks by the Kennedy Center musical director, and they continued as Esperanza Spalding gifted her exquisite tones, and tender thanks, for “taking us to the stratosphere.” Herbie Hancock led an all-star line-up that represented a history of Wayne Shorter’s creative life. One of the blessings of the Kennedy Center Honors is that it brings giants across all genres into the spotlight of public consciousness, and allows a master like Shorter to become the inspiration for another generation.

Shorter began his artistic climb in 1959, with Art Blakely's Jazz Messengers, before being part of the Miles Davis Quartet and founding member of Weather Report. At 86, Shorter never stood, but the tears on his face offered alternate love. He seemed most profoundly moved with Renée Fleming’s performance from “Aurora” with the words from Maya Angelou. The innovative proponent of improvisation was asked what his favorite song was in a recent interview. “The next one,” he replied. Shorter's creative daring will inspire countless more jazz aficionados.

Roaring support

There is practically no place on the planet that has not felt the impact of “Hamilton” in some way, including the historic production’s run in Puerto Rico to raise funds for the arts in 2019.

Lin Manuel Miranda, director, Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and music director, Alex Lacamoire, all behaved like a cheering squad for the other honorees from the front row. “Hamilton” has changed Broadway as deeply as it has transformed the study of history for young audiences, and one evidence of the staying power of the irresistible rap/pop stroll through the life of the Treasury Secretary is that every person in the audience was singing right along with “The Schuyler Sisters” and Miranda company, two years after “Hamilton” started as a mixtape project. America is meant to be a land where barriers don’t bury a dream, and in the arts, anything is still possible.

Philip Glass held onto his creative dream, even through decades of having to work day jobs to survive while pursuing music.

The composer was raised in his father's record store, and music became more than a passion for the 81-year-old, whose compositions, can move from the ethereal feel of earth and water, as in “Glassworks,” performed by Jon Batiste during the tribute, to a driving chorus like that of “The Grid.” Glass never became emotional during performances or words from friends like Paul Simon. The feeling of being vindicated for not surrendering as an artist, however, clearly permeated his presence, and onstage, in film, and performance, Philip Glass has made himself heard.

The Kennedy Center Honors, like any big event, needs a showstopper, and there's no one better than Cher to do that. Country group, Little Big Town, showed big love for the fashion icon who has a flair for a song.

They ran through “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves,” and “Baby Don’t Go,” getting enthusiastic support from the honoree. Adam Lambert, however, stole her heart with his slowed-down, passionate rendition of “Believe.” The snappy-witted singer was moved to tears by Lambert, and moved to talk back to her buddy, Cyndi Lauper, bursting out on stage with “If I Could Turn Back Time.” “You told me you were going to be in Los Angeles,” Cher yelled down. “I was,” replied Lauper, launching into full-on tribute mode.

The repertoire brought the tuxedo and evening gown crowd to its rocking feet, all for the ageless 72-year-old, and even at the Kennedy Center Honors, she left them wanting more.