Entertainment elite at Kennedy Honors

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WASHINGTON - Washington's elite hosted an eclectic mix of entertainers ranging from multiple-Oscar winner Tom Hanks to pop singer Jessica Simpson at the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday, paying tribute to five superstars for their lifetime contributions to the arts and American culture.

President Bush and his wife, Laura, led a mainly political audience as they stoically watched a gala performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to honor movie mogul Steven Spielberg, country singer Dolly Parton, musical theater composer and stage producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, conductor Zubin Mehta and singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, showed no inhibitions sitting next to her boss as she was nearly bounding out of her seat to dance to magnificent performances of Robinson classics such as "The Tracks of My Tears" and "My Girl" as performed by the Temptations and Sam Moore.

Following tradition, the honorees were not told who would perform in their tribute before the event. Parton looked surprised and thrilled when country singer Kenny Rogers strutted on stage to perform their hit song "Islands In a Stream" with Carrie Underwood as the Tennessee native watched from the presidential box.

Parton appeared to be significantly less impressed as tabloid queen Simpson badly flubbed a performance of the song "9 to 5" and apologized to Parton from the stage.

Two of Spielberg's leading men -- Hanks from "Saving Private Ryan" and Liam Neeson from "Schindler's List" -- honored him for his contributions to the historical record of some of the most important events of the 20th century, rather than for his blockbuster hits such as "Jaws," "E.T." and "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Hanks invited World War II veterans and a Holocaust survivor to the stage to thank Spielberg for his films. Harold Baumgarten, a veteran of the exact spot in the Normandy D-Day invasion portrayed in "Saving Private Ryan," praised Spielberg for "showing it exactly as it happened."

The tribute for London native Webber included performances from his masterpieces "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats."

Mehta, the first Indian to receive the Kennedy Center honors and now music director of the New York Philharmonic, was honored by violinist Pinchas Zukerman.

Now in its 29th year, the Kennedy Center chooses its honorees based on the recommendations from a diverse nominating committee whose members range from comedic actor Dan Aykroyd to opera singer Beverly Sills.

The show will be broadcast on the CBS television network on December 26.
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