When the Kennedy Center saluted its latest honorees Dec. 8, it was hard to decide what the biggest moment was.
Supreme Court associate justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke in praise of opera star Martina Arroyo.
Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly was on hand for Herbie Hancock. (“I know, I’m surprised, too,” O’Reilly told a stunned audience.)
Rufus Wainwright, Don Henley, Garth Brooks and Tony Bennett sang together in a salute to Billy Joel.
Now CBS gets to draw on that and other material for its two-hour 36th Annual Kennedy Center Honors special, which airs at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Besides Joel, Arroyo and Hancock, the honorees included Shirley MacLaine and Carlos Santana, with high-powered participants all around and President and First Lady Michelle Obama in the audience.
Harry Belafonte — himself a Kennedy Center honoree in 1989 — introduced the tribute to Santana, which also included an all-star band, Steve Winwood, Sheila E, Buddy Guy (who received a Kennedy Center honor last year), Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, vocalist Fher Olvera and more.
Jazz greats such as Terrence Blanchard, Jack DeJohnette and Chick Corea played in the Herebie Hancock segment, which later included Snoop Dogg.
Snoop, Rolling Stone noted, mixed lines from his song “Gin and Juice” with a line about Hancock, lyrics from Us3’s Cantaloop (which sampled Hancock’s music) and “a few call-and-response ‘heys’ and ‘hos.’”
You could see the D.C. elite “with their hands in the air,” Rolling Stone said.
Then there was the star-laden medley for opera star Arroyo.
Kathy Bates talked about her friend MacLaine. Bates was followed by Broadway actress (and “Bunheads” star) Sutton Foster and movie star Anna Kendrick performing songs associated with MacLaine.
Tony Bennett introduced Billy Joel, and Wainwright, Brooks, Henley and Panic at the Disco’s Brendon Urie all did their own versions of Joel songs before the collective work.
“All in service of the greats,” as Rolling Stone put it, and service meant to span generations and genres.
And quite a way to start waving goodbye to 2013.
“The 35th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Special” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS.