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  • Aug 2, 2014
  • Updated: 1:13pm
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Washington fetes Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine and Santana

Billy Joel, Santana and Shirley MacLaine feted at prestigious awards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 9:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 9:12pm

With notes of rock, jazz and opera, Washington has feted piano man Billy Joel, actress Shirley MacLaine and guitarist Carlos Santana at the Kennedy Centre Honours, the US capital's annual celebration of the arts.

Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and opera singer Martina Arroyo rounded out the list of honorees at the country's prestigious awards ceremony for stars of the stage, screen and concert hall.

"The diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honour today haven't just proven themselves to be the best of the best," President Barack Obama said at a White House ceremony before the show. "Despite all their success, all their fame, they've remained true to themselves - and inspired the rest of us to do the same."

The evening started with a tribute to Santana, a 10-time Grammy winner originally from Mexico.

Singer Harry Belafonte, himself a Kennedy Centre honoree, joked that he was a victim of the Latino musician's greatness, saying he thought Santana got his spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"We should've built a bigger fence," he deadpanned, referring to the debate in Washington about immigration reform and border security with Mexico.

"The Latino thing has arrived. It has become the new black. And now Carlos is a citizen of the world."

The theme continued when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic member of the nation's highest court, introduced opera diva Arroyo. The daughter of a Puerto Rican father and an African-American mother, Arroyo grew up in an unlikely place for a future opera star: New York City's Harlem neighbourhood. "Martina faced an uphill battle," Sotomayor said. "She never gave up."

Musicians filled the Kennedy Centre with opera and Santana's unique fusion sound in honour of the two performers.

Then, rapper Snoop Dogg electrified the stage with a rap tribute to Hancock, the keyboardist and band leader who hails from the Obamas' home state of Illinois. "Hey, Herbie, you know we love you, baby," the rapper shouted. "Thank you for creating hip hop!"

MacLaine, who won an Oscar for her performance in the 1983 film Terms of Endearment, was the sole actress highlighted during a night dominated by music giants.

"Ask me how my feet are, and ask me how my back is, and ask me where my martini is," she joked on Saturday at a State Department reception for the honorees.

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the night came during the tribute to Joel, whose songs were described as a soundtrack for the lives of generations of Americans.

During a performance of Joel's song Goodnight Saigon, a group of Vietnam veterans came on stage to sing along as Garth Brooks crooned the words "And we would all go down together".

The veterans saluted Joel at the end of the ballad. He saluted back. "It's a little overwhelming," Joel said.

The final performance of the evening was Joel's hit Piano Man, with the Kennedy Centre audience singing along.

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