The annual tradition of celebrating the select performers who span the arts, and have enriched the world with their gifts, continued on December 15 with the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors. The star-studded night, like the full Christmas rush this year, came quite a bit earlier than usual. Even though the televised version usually falls after Christmas, it was perfectly fitting for the 2019 soiree to come just before Christmas, when children of all ages could watch and remember 50 years of "Sesame Street". It seems almost impossible to realize that the first generation to grow up with Oscar, Grover, Elmo, Big Bird, and Bert and Ernie now have the same lovable creatures teaching their children how to count, spell, and more importantly, how to cope, keep courage, and remember kindness in this increasingly tribalistic social climate.

The entire Muppet puppet clan turned the Kennedy Center into "Sesame Street" for the namesake song, “Sing,” and yes, many, far past age 30 or even 50, sang every word with tears in their eyes. The performance epitomized the entire concept of the public broadcasting program designed to stretch the reach of television to children for learning fun. The Muppets were not the only ones with soaring voices. Linda Ronstadt has not sung publicly since her struggle with Parkinson's disease diagnosed in 2013, but premiere songstresses sang their heart out to Linda, and it certainly showed.

Oscar-winning actress, Sally Field, was noted as one of the most formidable “bada**” talents in her craft by Maura Tierney, despite never coming off that way to her many adorers.

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, never fit in the confines of any musical box, and from his introduction to the final note, the nod to the music master and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra leader was a journey.

An evening like the Kennedy Center Honors can’t end without a showstopper, and an all-star lineup turned up the joy and the vocal heat to honor Earth, Wind & Fire.

It was a blazing way to prove that unity is possible in the nation’s capital, and made for a dynamite Christmas sendoff.

Big-hearted music and Big Bird fun

Whether listeners are old enough to remember Linda Ronstadt from her Stone Poneys days and opening for Neil Young or not, playing any song from her catalog evokes a memory of the voice that makes any song completely her own.

As endearing as it is incredulous is the fact that Linda Ronstadt actually said in her pre-Kennedy Center Honors profile that her epitaph should be: “She s*@ked in the beginning, but she got a little bit better.”

Ronstadt didn't just record hits, she challenged herself constantly to do what had never been done, such as her Broadway stint with “Pirates of Penzance,” for which Kevin Kline credited her as the one who taught authenticity, humor, and grace to her seasoned castmates, beyond her vocal abilities. Carrie Underwood came out as a vision of blue for “Blue Bayou” and did Linda Ronstadt great honor, but no one but the artist herself couldn't bring the wistful longing to those lyrics in the same way.

Trisha Yearwood was dead-soulful with “You're No Good” and Linda felt the emotion, too. Her husband, Garth Brooks, was brought to tears listening to “Don't Know Much” with Aaron Neville, and both were pouring nothing but love out for Linda. The most moving moment came when Emmylou Harris said with a cracked voice that singing with Linda Ronstadt was the greatest joy of her life. Ronstadt has commented that singing with “The Trio” alongside Harris and Dolly Parton brought her the confidence to know she really was a singer. Ronstadt also was treated to Flor De Toloache’s “La Cigarra,” and seen still mouthing every word perfectly. Her 1987 Spanish language album, “Canciones De Mi Padre” remains the biggest selling non-English album in history.

Big Bird has brought a lot of love to little hearts and his playful routine of trying to take Tom Hanks’ seat was a riot. Big Bird referred to the “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” star as “Thanks” because of T. Hanks being written on his card. Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, was singing all night, and sang in delight with the Henson puppets, too. Loving tribute was paid to Caroll Spinney, who was Big Bird’s puppeteer for 22 years. Imagine talking for a creature who towers above human stature with such love. Spinney passed at 85 just days before the Sesame Street Kennedy Center Honors recognition. Sesame Street is the only television show ever to be welcomed among honorees.

Bravo for wrong decisions

Steven Spielberg opened his remarks honoring Sally Field by saying that both Sally Field and his wife, Kate Capshaw, told him the two words he didn't care much regarding Sally Field’s role as Mary Todd Lincoln in the director’s 2012 opus. “You’re wrong,” both ladies told him. Sally Field was utterly committed to getting the part, so much so that Daniel Day-Lewis and Spielberg flew out to have full-day improvisations and sessions with her. Needless to say, they were beyond spellbound and delivered the news by phone to the golden actress who started out as Gidget.

Tom Hanks greeted Sally Field as “Mama,” harkening to their “Forrest Gump” bonds. Pierce Brosnan was dashing and fun in his remembrances from “Mrs.

Doubtfire,” of course, referring to off-color humor by Robin Williams.

Michael Tilson Thomas is used to getting critiques for wrong decisions. He frequently was asked to do “some other symphony” work instead of busting out into James Brown with his West Coast ensemble or inviting Metallica to crank up “Enter Sandman” alongside the string section. Tilson loves and craves music, and that is what comes across with any collaboration he does, on the world stage, or at home. Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, praised the “rampant, infectious energy” of “MTT,” as Tilson is known, for truly bringing music to the masses and breaking down genre walls. The luminous Audra McDonald and Yuja Wang were stars to Tilson's universe for the night.

The Kennedy Center Honors have a way of saving the best for last, so why not fill the stage with the groove and energy that gets even the Grinchy-est politician on his or her feet. The group didn't just own audiences in Las Vegas, after all. John Legend couldn't have been a better choice for “Can't Hide Love.” It seemed like he had been waiting for the performance all his life. Broadway and “Harriet” star, Cynthia Erivo was magnificent on “Reasons” and threw in “Fantasy” for good measure. Somehow, the Jonas Brothers don't seem seasoned enough to be in "EWF" company quite yet.

The calendar may say winter, but “September” stirred the night with sweet fall memories, and nothing but the music and unity of Earth, Wind & Fire could get Mike Pompeo and Nancy Pelosi both dancing, along with hundreds of their counterparts.

Harmony still had amazing power at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors.

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