WASHINGTON — If the Kennedy Center Honors is the venue’s biggest end-of-the-year party, the annual Spring Gala gives it a run for its money for live music.
Last year, a star-studded lineup of musicians — Leslie Odom Jr., Babyface, Valerie Simpson, Mary Wilson and BJ The Chicago Kid — turned out to salute the iconic music of the late Marvin Gaye.
On Monday night, this year’s ceremony delivered “Come Together: A Celebration of John Lennon,” saluting the genius behind so many Beatles hits, as well as a solo career that was tragically cut short.
“You’re wondering if we’re going to get to your favorite John Lennon song: ‘Norwegian Wood,’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ ‘Power to the People,’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ ‘Dear Prudence’? Sorry, we’re not doing any of those. Get over it,” emcee David Duchovny joked. “We would’ve loved to have played them all, but if you wanted to spend that much time sitting in a seat at the Kennedy Center, you’d be over in the Opera House watching ‘Madame Butterfly.’ … Your [butt] thanks us!”
The event kicked off with a tone-setting group performance of “Come Together” by Taj Mahal, Shawn Colvin, Jim James and Duchovny, who stuck around on stage to sing Lennon’s catchy “Instant Karma.”
After that, the unbelievably talented Corinne Bailey Rae came out to belt “Don’t Let Me Down,” followed by Esperanza Spalding wailing Lennon’s aching single “Mother” over an upright bass.
The vibe shifted to rock as Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s The E Street Band performed “Working Class Hero” (a Lennon song covered by Green Day) and “Revolution” (a Beatles smash).
Looking and sounding the most like Lennon was Jim Jones, who returned to perform “Jealous Guy.”
Shawn Colvin, Grammy winner for “Sunny Came Home,” sang “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”
Taj Mahal returned to perform “Sweet Little Sixteen,” which the Beatles covered from Chuck Berry.
Spalding returned to sing the psychedelic Beatles tune “Tomorrow Never Knows,” complete with a trippy kaleidoscopic jumbotron and the break-dance brilliance of Rennie Harris Puremovement.
Next up, legendary singer-songwriter Judy Collins gave goose bumps with her take on “In My Life.”
Amos Lee kicked things up with the Beatles’ “Help,” then invited Corinne Bailey Rae back out on stage for a beautiful duet of Lennon’s signature peace anthem “Imagine” against a heavenly backdrop.
It all culminated with the entire lineup reuniting on stage for a confetti-filled “All You Need is Love.”
Lennon’s peaceful vibe was present throughout, as many of the evening’s presenters wore his famous circular-rimmed tinted glasses. Even Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein wore them.
The gala also featured the second annual presentation of the Kennedy Center Award for the Human Spirit, recognizing those who have advanced arts and culture. Joan and Sandy Weill were hailed as “Distinguished Philanthropists,” while Afa and Aaron Dworkin were honored as “Citizen Artists.”