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Faith in the spotlight on Kennedy Center red carpet and stage at annual Honors gala

Singer Ellie Holcomb said Amy Grant taught her to be a ‘there you are person’ rather than a ‘here I am person.’

Former honoree LL Cool J, center, speaks during the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo by Mary Kouw/CBS

(RNS) — While walking the red carpet or speaking from the stage of the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday (Dec. 4), a number of celebrities referenced faith as they praised the awardees. Here are some tidbits:

1. Singer Ellie Holcomb on her childhood with crossover contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant.

Holcomb attended the black-tie gala with her parents — music producer Brown Bannister and his wife Debra Bannister — and her husband, singer Drew Holcomb.

“My dad produced her first record,” she said in an interview on the red carpet about Grant. “I will never forget walking in her home, her at the farm, while she was filming a video for her Christmas record, ‘Home for Christmas.’”

The scene was set with candles and dozens of people working on the film crew.

Singer Ellie Holcomb on the red carpet at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Singer Ellie Holcomb on the red carpet at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“There’s a dolly and a camera filming around, and she sees me walk in. I’m a little 7-year-old girl. And she says, ‘Stop.’ And she goes ‘Ellie, I’m so glad you’re here!’ runs and wraps me in her arms.”

Holcomb, who recorded “A Woman” with Grant on the 2021 “Faithful” album, said that memory proved to be a lesson about how to deal with celebrity status.

RELATED: Amy Grant, ‘queen of Christian pop,’ feted at Kennedy Center Honors

“She is an expansive soul who genuinely believes that every story matters. And she’s helped me know that my story matters. And I think everyone that she ever encounters feels seen. And maybe they’re reminded that they’re loved, too. So I think it’s just taught me to be a ‘there you are person’ rather than a ‘here I am person.’ And a person who welcomes and expands a widening circle with a song and a smile.”

The closing of the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo by Gail Schulman/CBS

The closing of the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo by Gail Schulman/CBS

2. Gladys Knight on her childhood church choir.

Asked on the red carpet about her trajectory from children’s choir to singing with the Pips and, later, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Grant’s fellow honoree Gladys Knight provided insight into that first phase of her musical life.

“Girl, we were kickin’ it,” she said, recalling the time with laughter. “We put these little friends of ours together. And that’s how we ended up with the Sunbeam Choir.”

She said they got their minister’s permission to sing particular songs. But they also found time to explore their sanctuary in other ways.

Kennedy Center Honoree Gladys Knight at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Kennedy Center Honoree Gladys Knight at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“So here we are — I mean, it was so fun, but we were bad little kids then. We were playing around in the pulpit, and down in the baptismal pool and all that. But you got to remember, we were 6, 7, 8 years old. Mischief was what it was.”

3. Mitt Romney on what he learned from Gladys Knight.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and a well-known member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Ann, talked briefly on the red carpet about one example of Knight’s genre-bridging: performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

“She tells ’em, ‘Hey, come on, get some snap to this music here,’” the senator recounted Knight sharing over the weekend. “She’s fantastic.”

His wife, who saw Knight as she was in town attending Honors-related events, said they have also witnessed Knight sing with the choir.

Sen. Mitt Romney and wife Ann attend the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Sen. Mitt Romney and wife, Ann, attend the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

4. LL Cool J on Knight’s singing.

The rapper, a 2017 honoree, praised Knight’s ability to keep faith in her varied performances.

“No matter what Gladys is singing, she connects you on a deeper spiritual level,” he told the audience of more than 1,900. “I once heard Gladys sing the ABCs and I thought I was in church — true story.”

5. Howard Gospel Choir on Knight and Grant.

“It is a true honor to celebrate our heroes, trailblazers, the ones that really showed us how to do what we’re doing,” said Kristen Taylor, who walked the red carpet before performing at the event along with other Howard Gospel Choir members.

Members of the Howard Gospel Choir at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4 2022, in Washington. Photo by Tracey Salazar

Members of the Howard Gospel Choir at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo by Tracey Salazar

6. Borat on Ye and anti-semitism.

On the stage, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen portrayed his alter ego Borat and brought up Kanye West during the segment honoring U2 and citing the group’s efforts to confront oppression across the globe.

Using his portrayal of a TV journalist from Kazakhstan, Borat joked that Ye would not be welcome as a citizen in the country located in both Asia and Europe: “We said no, he too antisemitic even for us,” he said, drawing some applause.

7. Composer Tania León on those who are with her in spirit.

“This award means to me something that my ancestors were not able to witness, but they are witnessing, spiritually speaking,” she told journalists on the red carpet. “And they had so much faith in me when I was a child, and they contributed so much, specifically giving me hope, and actually making me believe that I was able to do anything that I would set my mind to.”

“All of that comes back to my mind,” she added. “And I hear their voices.”

Kennedy Center Honoree Tania Leon at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo by Tracey Salazar

Kennedy Center Honoree Tania León at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo by Tracey Salazar

8. George Clooney’s friends on bar life.

Julia Roberts, decked out in a flowing dress that featured framed images of acting colleague George Clooney, talked about how he likes to gather with friends in a bar for a time that is “almost sacred.”

Continuing that theme, Don Cheadle, another acting colleague — all three were in “Ocean’s Eleven” — gave him another title beyond actor, filmmaker and humanitarian.

“George, you truly are a man of peace, an inspiration, my ride or die,” Cheadle said to Clooney. “And you prove that saints aren’t just in heaven, they can also be found in a bar.”

President Joe Biden, right, and first lady Jill Biden are recognized at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4 2022, in Washington. Photo by Tracey Salazar

President Joe Biden, right, and first lady Jill Biden are recognized at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo by Tracey Salazar


RELATED: Amy Grant named Kennedy Center honoree in first for contemporary Christian music

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