The likes of Gladys Knight or the Irish band U2 would normally be headlining a concert for thousands of spectators, but the tables turned on Sunday at the Kennedy Center Awards after they and other artists were honored for their artistic contributions or his trajectory.

Actor, director, producer and human rights activist George Clooney, innovative Cuban – born composer and director Tania León, and contemporary Christian musician Amy Grant will join Knight and all members of U2 in tributes from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Each year, the organization honors a select group of people for their artistic influence on American culture. Among the attendees were President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, accompanied by their respective spouses.

Hours earlier at the White House, Biden honored the winners with a small ceremony in the East Room, where he called them “an exceptional group of artists.”

“Thank you for showing us the power of the arts and ‘Of us the people,’” declared the president, referring to the famous words with which the preamble to the US Constitution begins.

The president highlighted Clooney’s work in front of the cameras and his efforts off the big screen, which range from helping the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to showing his support for a campaign for the gun control campaign led by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

“It is relentless and indomitable,” Biden said. “That is the character of him in real life. That’s George Clooney.”

Biden called Grant’s voice “a true gift from God that she shares with everyone,” and thanked Leon for “giving new sounds to the soul of the nation.” She added that she has all of Knight’s songs on her iPhone.

“We are going to get on that midnight train,” Biden commented of Knight. “Because I speak for all Americans when I say that we would rather live in your world than be in ours without you.”

Expressing his love for Irish poets, Biden called U2 “four sons of Ireland, poets in their own right” whose music “has changed the world.”

“We would do well to remember today, at a time when there is so much hate, so much anger, so much division here in the United States and, frankly, all over the world,” Biden said. “Today we must remember, as her song says: ‘We are one, but we are not the same. We must carry each other.’”

On the red carpet before the show at the Kennedy Center, Clooney, accompanied by his wife Amal, joked that after seeing some of his friends like Don Cheadle and Julia Roberts in attendance, he was worried the tribute to him would be more well a comic toast against him.

He noted that as a young man he watched the Kennedy Center Honors on television in a small Kentucky town and was now pleased to belong to a fraternity that includes actors such as Paul Newman and Henry Fonda.

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