Springsteen, De Niro, Mel Brooks Take Kennedy Honors

President pays special tribute to Bruce Springsteen

By DANIEL MACHT
|  Monday, Dec 7, 2009  |  Updated 6:27 AM EDT
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President Barack Obama shakes hands with singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen during a reception for Kennedy Center Honorees December 6 in the East Room of the White House.

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Even the commander in chief knows who’s The Boss.

President Obama singled out rocker Bruce Springsteen's unique stature at a White House reception Sunday night and also recognized Robert De Niro, comedian Mel Brooks, jazz legend Dave Brubeck and opera singer Grace Bumbry's contribution to the arts as Kennedy Center nominees.

“I’m the president, but he’s The Boss,” Obama said in greeting the “Born to Run” singer from the East Room of the White House, The Associated Press reported.

About 300 invitees drawn from the ranks of Hollywood and Washington hoi palloi attended the reception, Jack Black, Edward Norten, Matthew Broderick, Ben Stiller, Martin Scorsese, Sting and Philip Seymore Hoffman among them.

“These performers are indeed the best,” Obama said of the Kennedy honorees. “They are also living reminders of a single truth — and I’m going to steal a line from Michelle here — the arts are not somehow apart from our national life, the arts are the heart of our national life.”

Later, Obama, his wife Michelle and Vice President Biden reportedly sat next to Springsteen for a gala at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

The artists, who had received their medallions a day earlier, were then paid tribute by a surprise group of their peers.

Comedian Jon Stewart opened the show by saying he believed Springsteen was the love child of Bob Dylan and James Brown. The riff caused Michelle Obama to double over laughing, the AP reported.

Melissa Etheridge performed Springsteen’s hit “Born to Run” and reportedly received a standing ovation. John Mellencamp sang "Born in the U.S.A."; Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland did "Glory Days"; Sting capped off the tribute by performing "The Rising" with a choir.

Actress Meryl Streep, in paying tribute to De Niro, said the actor "did what I and my drama school friends dreamed of — to disappear and morph into a (character)."

Singer Aretha Franklin recalled how Bumbry was the first black singer to perform at Germany's Bayreuth in 1961, a performance that drew applause for 30 minutes.

Brooks, a theater and screen legend, also got a special presidential shout-out.

"By illuminating uncomfortable truths — about racism and sexism and anti-Semitism he's been called 'our jester, asking us to see ourselves as we really are, determined that we laugh ourselves sane,'" Obama said, the AP reported.

Jack Black sang Brooks' "Men in Tights"; Harry Connick Jr. performed "High Anxiety"; and Glee's Matthew Morrison performed "Springtime for Hitler." 

Brooks reportedly saluted Morrison from his seat while wearing a fake black mustache.

A two-hour primetime special of the event airs Tuesday, Dec. 29 on CBS.
 

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