Tradition again: Biden celebrates Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell at Kennedy Center Honors

The 44th Annual Kennedy Center Honors medallion ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with his wife Evan Ryan pose with Kennedy Center Honorees operatic bass-baritone Justino Diaz, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, actress and singer-songwriter Bette Midler, and Motown founder, songwriter, producer, director Berry Gordy, and Deborah Rutter with her husband Peter Ellefson at The 44th Annual Kennedy Center Honors medallion ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, U.S. December 4, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

President Joe Biden celebrated artists including Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell and Lorne Michaels on Sunday at the Kennedy Center Honors, bringing back presidential participation in the annual ceremony skipped by Republican former President Donald Trump.

Singer Justino Díaz and Motown founder Berry Gordy rounded out the group of artists selected by the Kennedy Center for top honors this year at a show that had been upended by politics and the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden, a Democrat who took over from Trump in January, held a ceremony for the five honorees at the White House ahead of the event in Washington. Trump did not hold such a reception during his four years in office and did not attend the show at the Kennedy Center itself.

The arts community largely did not object to that absence. Singer Cher, an honoree in 2018 and an outspoken Trump critic, said she would have had to accept the award in a bathroom if Trump had come.

The awards recognize a lifetime of achievement in the performing arts.

Midler, a singer and actress, has received Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe awards for a career spanning decades, with album sales exceeding 30 million around the world.

Singer-songwriter Mitchell, a native Canadian known for songs such as “Both Sides, Now” and “Big Yellow Taxi,” is a multi-Grammy recipient and an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Michaels, also a native of Canada, is the creator and executive producer of the long-running NBC sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live.”

Diaz, a bass-baritone opera singer from Puerto Rico, has performed with opera companies around the world.

Gordy, a songwriter and record producer from Detroit, founded the Motown record label that became synonymous with a jazz- and blues-influenced musical sound popularized by Black artists including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Lionel Richie, whose careers he helped shape. Gordy is also a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.