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The Eagles, James Taylor and Mavis Staples Saluted at Kennedy Center Honors

2016 Kennedy Center Honors Formal Group Photo
Pool / Getty Images

Veteran singer-songwriter James Taylor, renowned vocalist Mavis Staples and the surviving members of the Eagles were among the honorees at this year’s Kennedy Center ceremony, which took place Dec. 5 in Washington.

As CBS News notes, the event — hosted by comedian and current Late Show host Stephen Colbert — also served as something of a tribute for outgoing President Barack Obama, who referred to the annual ceremony as “one of the perks of the job that I will miss” and pointed out, “The arts have always been part of life at the White House because the arts are always central to American life.”

The ceremony followed two days after a dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, who referred to the arts as proof of humanity’s “utter refusal to give in to darkness” during troubled times and added, “The light is always there.”

The evening took on a decidedly bittersweet tinge for members of the Eagles, who belatedly accepted honors bestowed upon the band last year — but were deferred after the death of co-founder Glenn Frey. Frey’s fellow Eagles leader Don Henley eulogized his longtime bandmate during the ceremony, saying, “I want to dedicate this evening to our brother Glenn. He was so much a part of our success. He was the driving force in the band. He believed in the American dream.”

Frey’s close friend Bob Seger was also on hand for the festivities, performing the Eagles hit “Heartache Tonight” and joining in during a rendition of “Life in the Fast Lane” that also featured Vince Gill and Kings of Leon. The night’s performances also included a medley of Taylor songs performed by Sheryl Crow, Garth Brooks and Darius Rucker.

Taylor, for his part, greeted the honors with typically understated humor. Lauded with a speech from former president Bill Clinton that described him as “the sweet voice of our better angels,” Taylor quipped that being feted is a pretty good gig if you can get it.

“It’s deep,” said Taylor. “I’ve been somehow or other involved with the Kennedy Center Honors five different times. This is — well, this is less work.”

Staples, meanwhile, wasn’t shy about sharing her joy. “At 8 years old, Mavis Staples climbed onto a chair in church, leaned into the microphone, raised her eyes upwards and belted out the gospel,” recalled President Obama in his introductory remarks. “When people heard that deep, old soul coming out of that little girl, they wept — which, understandably, concerned her. But her mother told her, ‘Mavis, they’re happy. Your singing makes them cry happy tears.'”

“Oh, my God. I feel like I would do a couple of cartwheels,” Staples told the Chicago Tribune. “I am so honored.”

The Kennedy Center Honors commemorate an artist’s lifetime contributions to American culture; this year’s honorees also include Al Pacino and pianist Martha Argerich. CBS is scheduled to air the ceremony on Dec. 27.

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