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Tom Hanks, Sting among 5 Kennedy Center honorees

December 8, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — An actor hailed as America’s “favorite son” and a musical genius who rose from a British shipyard town received America’s highest honors Sunday for influencing the country’s culture through the arts.

Tom Hanks and Sting joined Lily Tomlin, singer Al Green and ballerina Patricia McBride in being awarded this year’s Kennedy Center Honors. President Barack Obama saluted them at the White House before the show.

Top performers and power players from Hollywood, Broadway and Washington gathered for a gala performance hosted by Stephen Colbert. It will be broadcast Dec. 30.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who collaborated with Hanks on many projects, said “America’s favorite son” has opened a window on the nation with movies that include “Philadelphia,” ″A League of Their Own,” ″Forrest Gump,” ″Apollo 13″ and “Saving Private Ryan.”

Before the show, Hanks, 58, joked that a mistake must have been made in the choice for a fifth honoree.

Sting broke out in 1978 with his band The Police with such hits as “Roxanne” and later “Every Breath You Take” before starting his solo career. He has won 16 Grammy Awards.

Young musicians came to sing his tunes in his honor.

Lady Gaga sang “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” Esperanza Spalding sang “Fragile” and Bruno Mars sang a medley of “So Lonely,” ″Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle.”

Bruce Springsteen also sang a tribute to his friend and made a toast at a State Department dinner Saturday.

“Sting makes me feel like a musical Neanderthal. When we get together, we always have the same argument. He insists that there are more than three chords, while I insist that there are not,” Springsteen said, drawing laughs.

On Tuesday, Sting will shift to Broadway, joining the cast of “The Last Ship” in his musical about his hometown.

Sting, 63, told The Associated Press he was bewildered by the honor.

“You know, for an Englishman to receive this reward, it’s not unique, but it’s rare, and I take that pretty seriously,” he said.

Former president John F. Kennedy’s appreciation for the role of the arts helped inspire the Kennedy Center’s creation as a memorial to the 35th president.

“It’s clear that the group on stage with me tonight understands what President Kennedy understood: that our art is a reflection of us not just as people, but as a nation. It binds us together,” Obama said.

Tomlin, 75, made her career in comedy after moving to New York City as a waitress. She went on to create memorable comedy specials, Broadway shows and movie roles, including “9 to 5” with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. She also played the U.S. president’s secretary in the TV series “The West Wing.”

Tomlin said she couldn’t believe she was receiving the Kennedy Center Honors. “I’ve never been privy to the insider’s circle, but here I am,” she said.

Green, 68, was born to sharecroppers in Arkansas. He made his name touring the gospel circuits of the South and now is one of the defining voices of Memphis soul. His hits include “Let’s Stay Together,” ″Take Me to the River” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).”

Obama once famously sang a few lines from “Let’s Stay Together.”

Leading entertainers including Usher, Jennifer Hudson and Earth, Wind and Fire sang some of Green’s greatest hits.

McBride, 72, has forged her artistic career in dance. She joined the New York City Ballet at 16 after studying under the great choreographer George Balanchine and quickly became the company’s youngest principal dancer at 18. It’s a role she would hold for 28 years, performing around the world.

Dancers from ballet companies in Boston, New York City and Charlotte performed Sunday in McBride’s honor.

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