Unforgettable Reactions to Kennedy Center Honors Performances

By Jasmine Lee

Experience Kennedy Center Honors through the eyes of the Honorees.

Emotional reactions are a signature of the annual ceremony. Here’s a list of some of our favorites and the performances that inspired them.

Tune in: The 39th Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 9/8c on CBS and CBS All Access. Explore an extensive video gallery of Kennedy Center Honors highlights from over the years.

2016 Honoree Mavis Staples and Sam Moore Bring The Crowd To Its Feet

When the two musical legends performed a stirring rendition of “Take Me To the River” in tribute to Al Green at the 2014 ceremony, no one was immune to its infectious power. The entire presidential box — including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama — was on their feet.


Robert Plant Moved to Tears

Without question, Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest and most influential rock bands of all time. They have influenced countless musicians with their music, including the women of Heart. At the 2012 ceremony, Jason Bonham is revealed on the drums for Stairway to Heaven, the son of the deceased Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Robert Plant is moved to tears during this powerful rendition of the band’s most famous song.


Carole King Reacts to James Taylor’s Tribute

Before he was honored in the 2016 ceremony, James Taylor paid tribute to a friend and musical contemporary, Carole King. One of the staple songs of Taylor’s career was written by the talented songwriter King in 1962. Taylor and King have shared a musical history and friendship spanning their careers in the industry, so it’s no surprise that King has such a warm smile at the sight of her old friend.


Jon Stewart Cracks Up The Boss

Like everyone who has grown up in New Jersey, it’s no surprise that Jon Stewart is an avid and devoted fan of Bruce Springsteen. The Boss has influenced the world with his music, but there will always be a special place for him in the hearts of those from the Garden State. As Stewart speaks on the remarkable career and impact of Springsteen with his signature brand of humor, he has the audience in tears.


Grace Ann Pierce and Ensemble Honor Natalia Marakova

When your career consists of highlights such as being prima ballerina for the American Ballet Theatre, a Tony Award, and an Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical, you come to expect greatness on the stage. While looking out at the dancers paying tribute to her career in ballet at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in 2012, Marakova had a watchful eye. After the performance, however, her face lights up at the joy of seeing performers beautifully engaged in their craft.


NYC Breakers Highlight the Legacy of Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham’s illustrious career in dance spanned decades and continents. She was a true dance anthropologist, investing in the cultures and history associated with the dance. Her influence paved the way for groups such as NYC Breakers to gain prominence in the dance world. The NYC Breakers performance at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983 marked the first time a Hip Hop group performed for an American President.


Alasdair Fraser Honors Sean Connery

There are two very important aspects everyone must know about Sean Connery. The first: he is, of course, the original James Bond. We have him to thank for first bringing Ian Fleming’s work to life on the silver screen. The second: Connery is a proud Scotsman. When Alasdair Fraser and company honor Connery’s Scottish heritage, 007 can’t help but get up and start dancing during the Honors ceremony of 1999.

Don’t forget: The 39th Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 9/8c on CBS and CBS All Access. Explore more great Honors content in our extensive video gallery of highlights from over the years.