The 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors, a notable event in the arts calendar, pushed forward queer representation when it recognized Queen Latifah on Sunday, awarding her a historic honor as the first female rapper to ever receive this accolade.
This prestigious ceremony also celebrated the achievements of Billy Crystal, Dionne Warwick, Renée Fleming, and Barry Gibb. President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff attended the Washington, D.C., event. Vice President Kamala Harris was traveling back to the United States from Dubai.
The New York Timeshighlighted a humorous moment from the event, where actor Robert De Niro, while celebrating Billy Crystal’s career, quipped about Crystal being close to Biden’s age, eliciting a good-natured response from the president and applause from the audience.
Queen Latifah’s recognition at the gala is a testament to her groundbreaking influence in hip-hop, particularly as a pioneering female artist. Her iconic tracks like “U.N.I.T.Y.” and “Ladies First” have left an indelible mark on the genre. The ceremony saw tributes from artists such as Missy Elliott, who recalled the impact of Queen Latifah’s feminist anthem “Ladies First,” stating it communicated a powerful message of respect and leadership, NPR reports.
The event also celebrated other legends in the entertainment industry. Dionne Warwick, known for her soulful voice and activism, was honored with performances by Gladys Knight and Chloe Bailey. Billy Crystal, renowned for his versatile contributions to film and comedy, received accolades from peers including Meg Ryan and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
According to NPR, Soprano Renée Fleming was lauded for her exceptional talent and contribution to opera, with tribute from fellow opera stars Angel Blue, Julia Bullock, Ailyn Perez, and Nadine Sierra. Barry Gibb, of the Bee Gees fame, was honored for his significant impact on the music industry, with artists like Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, and Paul McCartney reflecting on his extensive list of songs.
In a special reception in the East Room at the White House before the ceremony, Biden spoke about the genesis of hip-hop and Queen Latifah’s significant role in its evolution.
“Fifty years ago, August of ’73, the Bronx. A new artform was born, inspired by spirituals sang as prayers of freedom, gospel music heard in churches, jazz played at speakeasies, funk music in nightclubs,” he said.
Biden emphasized Queen Latifah’s journey from Newark, celebrating her as a “natural storyteller” and lauding her first album, which she released at age 19.
“Grammy winner. Two million albums sold. She’s also a skillful storyteller onscreen. The first woman in hip-hop to earn an Oscar nomination,” Biden remarked.
Biden highlighted her broader impact as well.
“From serving as a mentor for young women of color to building housing in her hometown of Newark, she displays how storytelling and service go hand in hand,” he said.
The Kennedy Center Honors, an event established in 1978, continues to be a highlight in the American cultural calendar, recognizing individuals who have profoundly influenced the nation’s artistic heritage. The 2023 honorees, with their diverse backgrounds and extraordinary achievements, embody the richness and variety of American cultural contributions.