US President Joe Biden celebrated artists including Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell and Lorne Michaels on Sunday at the Kennedy Center Honors.
Biden's presence brought back presidential participation to an annual event skipped by Republican 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.
"To all of the Kennedy Center honorees past and present, thank you for sharing your gift with the nation and... with the world," Biden said at a black-tie reception at the White House.
Trump did not hold such a reception during his four years in office and did not attend the show at the Kennedy Center.
The arts community largely did not object to that absence.
Singer and actress 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.
Biden, his wife, Jill, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, all attended the ceremony, as did House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
"It is quite nice, very nice, to see the presidential box once again being occupied," comedian David Letterman said at the beginning of the show.
The crowd rose in a standing ovation.
The awards recognize a lifetime of achievement in the performing arts and did not take place in 2020 because of the pandemic. Instead, last year's honorees were celebrated in a scaled-down event earlier this year.
Audience members on Sunday had to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast on CBS television network on December 22. - Reuters
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