The Kennedy Center Honors (2008)

Kennedy Center Honors logo

Broadcast on CBS December 30, 2008

Honorees list
  • Produced by: George Stevens, Jr., Michael Stevens
  • Directed by: Louis J. Horvitz
  • Written by: Sara Lukinson, Michael Stevens, and George Stevens, Jr.
  • Barbra Streisand Tribute Choreographed by: Rob Ashford
  • Musical director: Harry Zimmerman

December 7, 2008

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Opera House

Washington, D.C.

The Honors recipients recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts— whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television—are selected by the Kennedy Center's Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence.

Recipients honored at the 31st annual national celebration of the arts—which were announced in September 2008—were: actor Morgan Freeman, singer George Jones, director, singer, actress, composer and producer Barbra Streisand, choreographer Twyla Tharp, and musicians Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who.

The first weekend of December was filled with honors activities.

First, The Boeing Company (the exclusive underwriter of the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors Gala and weekend of events) hosted an honorees luncheon, which Barbra Streisand attended on Saturday afternoon, December 6.

The Kennedy Center Honors were bestowed on December 6 (the night before the gala) at a State Department dinner, hosted by Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in the ornate Thomas Jefferson room. “This is being honored by your country," said Streisand at a black-tie party. “It was nice to get the Legion of Honor from France, but it's nice to get it from your own country too.” When asked if she would rather have received the honor from President Barack Obama, Streisand responded: “Would have been nice. I’m just glad he’s in.”

State Department dinner

(Photo, above): Kennedy Center 2008 Honorees. Top row from left: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, George Jones. Bottom row: Twyla Tharp, Morgan Freeman, and Barbra Streisand. This group photo was taken after the State Department Dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors gala Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 at the State Department in Washington.

On December 7, the President and Mrs. Bush received the Honorees and members of the Artists Committee, who nominated them, along with the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees at the White House prior to the gala performance.

Bush kisses Streisand

After the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors Gala, the evening concluded with a supper dance in the Grand Foyer.

Kennedy Center Honors Show

Latifah honors Streisand

The live presentation took place in the Kennedy Center Opera House. The evening was videotaped for airing on CBS on December 30, 2008. The live show differed from the telecast—several artists' speeches and musical numbers were either eliminated completely on television, or shortened. Streisand's presentation, for the most part, was aired with hardly any cuts.

At the very beginning of the live show, video of Streisand and Bush greeting each other at the White House with a kiss was shown and the audience in the Opera House giggled ... a little awkward, considering Bush and Streisand were sitting in the first tier watching the video too! (This segment did not air on CBS).

Streisand (who was honored last, following George Jones) was fêted with a speech by Queen Latifah.

Early photos of Streisand in her teens

Next, Streisand's biography film was shown (it was edited to a shorter length for the CBS broadcast—For instance, they edited out Streisand's dramatic telephone scene from The Way We Were and also a bit of the Bergdorf Goodman montage from My Name is Barbra ... However, rare photos from Barbra's high school days appeared for the first time anywhere in the bio film! )The best line of the night concluded Latifah's narration of the film. Of Streisand she said: “An original doesn't conform to our expectations, she changes them ... forever.”

Honorees in seats

(Photo above: Robin Lipman captured this shot of the honorees in their 1st tier seats during intermission. Streisand had just settled into her seat.)

Streisand then received a standing ovation from the Kennedy Center audience.

Glenn Close came out and made a nice speech about playing Margarethe Cammermeyer in the 1995 television movie that Barbra produced, Serving in Silence. Close spoke about gays and lesbians and brought a semi-political tone to the tribute, considering George Bush was sitting in the audience. (Close's speech was cut from the CBS broadcast. Only her closing comments were included).

Glenn Close and Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel, star of Broadway's Wicked (Elphaba) and Rent (Broadway and film versions), took to the stage and sang “Don't Rain on My Parade”. At the climax, she walked center stage and pointed to Barbra in her seat: “Hey there Miss Streisand, I'm your biggest fan!”

Beyonce rose from the stage floor in a spotlight and sang a faithful rendition of “The Way We Were”. At the end she looked at the first tier seats and said, “It was an honor singing for you, Miss Streisand.”


Next, Ne-Yo (30 year-old pop and R&B singer-songwriter), appeared onstage with male backup dancers and performed a dynamic version of “Lover, Come Back to Me”, choreographed by Rob Ashford. He tipped his hat at Miss Streisand at song's end.

Ne-Yo sings for Streisand

Ne-Yo, who confessed to USA Today that he learned “Lover, Come Back to Me” the day before the show, said, “I never would have thought they would ask me, but I was honored.”

Matt Kevin and Robin

(From left to right): Here's me—Matt Howe—Kevin Hall, and Robin Lipman in the Kennedy Center lobby before our encounter with Barbra Streisand and her longtime manager, Marty Erlichman. (Photo courtesy of Robin)

At this point during the live show, there was a hangup and the show stopped for about 2 minutes. (This was, of course, edited out for the TV special). Finally, Caroline Kennedy took her spot on the stage and introduced “Somewhere”, sung by Kelli O'Hara (Broadway's South Pacific) and Nathan Gunn (baritone, recitalist, and recording star). Streisand seemed genuinely moved by the choir.

Finale of Streisands tribute

The audience stood for Streisand one last time and the evening concluded.

Streisand and husband James Brolin attended a dinner/reception after the show. Some of Barbra's famous friends attended, including Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Donna Karan, and Marty Erlichman and his wife.

Beyonce hugs Streisand

(Above): Streisand and James Brolin say hello to Beyonce at the reception following the show.

A few days after Barbra was honored, she posted this statement on her official website:

Last weekend, I was in Washington DC to accept the Kennedy Center Honors, and I noticed that the kiss between me and the “soon to be former” President Bush created quite a stir. The Today Show even proclaimed that it was a sign of the apocalypse. The timing is ironic. After eight years of President Clinton and on the cusp of at least four years of President Obama, I get selected to receive this prestigious award…during the Bush Administration. I have never met George W. Bush, but for the past eight years I have been blogging about him and his administration on my web site. I have relayed my frustration at the direction he has taken our country in no uncertain terms. So it was just as surprising to me as it apparently was to the press that upon meeting President Bush and extending my hand to him, he said to me, “Aw c’mon, gimme a hug and a kiss,” and then he proceeded to embrace me. I must say, I found him very warm and completely disarming…even though I think he was kissing me hello as I was kissing him goodbye…

During the White House ceremony, the President described each honorees attributes. After he listed mine, he added, “She’s also been known to speak her mind,” to which the audience first laughed and then applauded. I genuinely thought he was very funny and very gracious.

During the Kennedy Center Honors, President Bush gave me his signature wink (which he must have passed on to Sarah Palin) and mouthed, “We showed ‘em.” I guess in some small way, he and I proved that we could agree to disagree, and, for that weekend, art transcended politics.

The Kennedy Center Honors, after it aired on CBS, achieved the 13th place on the Nielsen ratings with 10.51 million viewers. It's interesting to note that the second hour of the special—when Streisand's segment aired—garnered higher ratings than the first hour (10.75 million versus 10.15 million in the first hour).


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