One of the highlights of each holiday season is the annual Kennedy Center Honors event from Washington, D.C. on CBS. Five entertainment artists are selected each year and then honored by colleagues, friends, and admirers for each of the ceremony’s segments. The 2016 program was recorded this past weekend to air on December 27. That group of honorees is Martha Argerich, Eagles, Al Pacino, Mavis Staples, and James Taylor.
Click through our new photo gallery for our choices as the 20 greatest performances of all time from the past four decades. Are your favorites included or not? Sound off in the comments section below.
1. Tina Turner (2005)
Only Beyonce could bring the same intensity to “Proud Mary” as rock legend Turner. With back-up dancers and fiery dresses, Beyonce gave one of the most memorable performances in KCH history.
2. Elton John (2004)
Heather Headley brought the roof down with her gospel-tinged version of the classic tune “Your Song.” Backed by a gospel choir, it was especially poignant since Headley starred in the Broadway productions of Elton John musicals “The Lion King” and “Aida.”
3. Carole King (2015)
The legendary Aretha Franklin, a previous honoree herself, surprised everyone with her appearance to end the show. She sang and played piano on the classic King song “Natural Woman.”
4. Led Zeppelin (2012)
It even made Robert Plant cry. The final performance of the evening was “Stairway to Heaven” by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart along with Jason Bonham on drums, a rock band, orchestra and gospel choir.
5. Carol Burnett (2003)
The final tribute of each ceremony is typically reserved for a famous music star, but not this time. Dressed in famous Bob Mackie costumes, this all-star tribute featured Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Elaine Stritch, Florence Henderson, Chita Rivera, John Schneider, Scott Bakula and more.
6. John Kander and Fred Ebb (1998)
An all-star group of entertainers from the duo’s Broadway musicals took the stage. Alan Cumming, Joel Grey, Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth and Liza Minnelli sang tunes from “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” and more.
7. Bruce Springsteen (2009)
You’ve never seen a funnier speech on a KCH tribute special that the one by Jon Stewart for Springsteen. It involved jokes about New Jersey, his Gremlin, fans, and Bob Dylan.
8. Mel Brooks (2009)
The comedy legend wrote songs for almost of all of his films, so having a large collection of admirers perform the tunes was a great idea. People on stage included Martin Short, Harry Connick, Jr., Matthew Broderick, Richard Kind, Gary Beach, Jack Black and Matthew Morrison.
9. The Who (2008)
Not many people in the audience knew who Bettye LaVette was. Even fellow nominee Barbra Streisand wanted to know more after her moving performance of “Love Reign O’er Me.”
10. Paul McCartney (2010)
Two legends themselves — Mavis Staples and James Taylor — teamed up for the last tune of the tribute. They combined classic Beatles songs “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” along with a choir for an inspirational ending.
11. Paul Simon (2002)
Not all of the great KCH moments came during song or dance performances. The introduction by Steve Martin of his long-time friend was one of the funniest in show history.
12. Neil Diamond (2011)
For the final song of the tribute, previous KCH recipient Smokey Robinson led an inspiring version of the classic “Sweet Caroline.” It even featured an appearance by song inspiration Caroline Kennedy and a mob of sports fans.
13. Angela Lansbury (2000)
Glenn Close led off this tribute to the stage, film and TV legend. Many Broadway stars took part in singing some of her classic songs, including Nathan Lane, Len Cariou, Marin Mazzie, Donna Murphy and Karen Ziemba. The entire company brings tears to Lansbury’s eyes with “Mame” to end the segment.
14. Johnny Cash (1996)
Nothing would bring tears to this father’s eyes more than his daughter Rosanne Cash singing his classic song “Walk the Line.” She then teams up with Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Lyle Lovett for the inspiring “I’ll Fly Away.”
15. James Stewart (1983)
The honoree had to remove his glasses to wipe the tears when the Air Force choral group came on stage. They were led in song by Carol Burnett with two tunes from his films: “Easy to Love” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
16. Stephen Sondheim (1993)
Several top stars joined a wide-ranging retrospective of the Broadway legend’s career. After tunes by Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, and Scott Bakula, the highlight was when Angela Lansbury sang “Send in the Clowns.”
17. Lucille Ball (1986)
Her former husband and partner Desi Arnaz had died just five days prior to the ceremony. He still made his presence known with a note he had written prior to his death and read by Robert Stack. Following that emotional moment, TV actresses Bea Arthur, Valerie Harper and Pam Dawber performed.
18. Brian Wilson (2007)
It was an inspired choice to have the boys choir Libera perform for The Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. They closed the show with a choral rendition of “Love and Mercy,” and then beach balls filled the auditorium.
19. Meryl Streep (2011)
The tribute started with comments by Tracey Ullman, Robert De Niro and Mike Nichols. Then former co-stars and friends Kevin Kline, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt took over with their rendition of “She’s Me Pal.”
20. Bob Dylan (1997)
Bruce Springsteen got to honor one of his idols with a haunting version of “The Times They Are A-Changin.'” The somewhat reclusive singer-songwriter seemed quite touched The Boss would join his tribute that night.