Kennedy Center Honors 2021 Performers & Presenters

Kennedy Center Honors 2021 Honorees

Getty Debbie Allen, Joan Baez, Dick Van Dyke, Garth Brooks and Midori Gotō pose during the 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at The Kennedy Center on May 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Gloria Estefan hosted the star-studded 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors, which is set to celebrate the work of Debbie Allen, Joan Baez, Garth Brooks, Midori and Dick Van Dyke during its June 6 broadcast on CBS.

“Hi everyone. I can’t believe it’s been almost four years that I received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. and right after that I got the incredible honor of hosting the awards which I will be doing again,” Estefan, a 2017 recipient of the honor, said in a May 2021 announcement. She previously hosted the Kennedy Center Honors in 2018.

Though, this year’s broadcast proved to be quite different after filming was pushed from December 2020 to May 2021. To accommodate new safety measures, the celebration took place throughout the Kennedy Center’s campus, featuring “small, in-person events and re-envisioned virtual tributes,” explains the theater’s website.

“After the challenging events of the past year, who better to bring us all together, help us take a collective deep breath, and celebrate the amazing artistry of our superstar slate of Kennedy Center Honorees than Gloria Estefan,” said CBS Entertainment Executive, Jack Sussman, in a press release.

Here are the other presenters and performers surprising the honorees:

Debbie Allen

Fans of Grey’s Anatomy will recognize Debbie Allen as Catherine Avery, but the Kennedy Center Honoree has many other accolades to her name. According to a recent CBS press release, she is also an “Emmy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated actress, dancer, choreographer, singer-songwriter, director and producer.”

To celebrate her legacy are presenters Paula Abdul, Tracee Ellis Ross, Shonda Rhimes and sister, Phylicia Rashad. The performers included:

  • Ariana DeBose performing “I’m a Brass Band,” “Something Better Than This,” and “Fame”
  • Anika Noni Rose performing “Out Here On My Own,” and “Fame”
  • Vanessa Hudgens performing “Fame”
  • Vivian Nixon performing “I’m a Brass Band,” “Something Better Than This,” and “Fame”
  • Tiler Peck performing “Out Here On My Own” and “Fame”
  • Desmond Richardson performing “Out Here On My Own” and “Fame”
  • Debbie Allen Dance Academy

Joan Baez

Another honoree is Joan Baez, a “Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and multiple Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, musician and activist,” according to a CBS press release. This is not her first time at the event, taking part in Pete Seeger’s 1994 tribute.

To honor her legacy, Jackson Browne, Phoebe Bridgers and Tom Morello served as presenters. The performers included:

  • Sturgill Simpson performing “House of the Rising Sun”
  • Rhiannon Giddens performing “Silver Dagger” with Dirk Powell
  • Emmylou Harris performing “Diamond & Rust,” “God is God” and “We Shall Overcome”
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter performing “Diamond & Rust,” “God is God” and “We Shall Overcome”

Garth Brooks

It is Garth Brooks’ turn to be honored by the Kennedy Center after performing at the award ceremonies for James Taylor, Billy Joel and Loretta Lynn. He is described in a CBS press release as a “multiple Grammy Award, ACM Award and CMA Award-winning country music entertainer.”

To mark the occasion, Jason Aldean, Bradley Cooper, John Travolta and Wayne Gretzky served as presenters. The performers included:

  • Kelly Clarkson performing “The Dance”
  • James Taylor performing “The River”
  • Gladys Knight performing “We Shall Be Free”
  • Jimmie Allen performing “The Thunder Rolls” and “Friends in Low Places”

Dick Van Dyke

Legendary actor, known for playing Bert in Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke has been named a 2020 recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor. According to CBS, he is an “Emmy Award, Grammy Award and Tony Award-winning actor, comedian, writer, singer and dancer.”

Bryan Cranston, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chita Rivera, Steve Martin and Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews, surprised him as presenters. The performers included:

  • Derek Hough performing “Step in Time” and “Put On a Happy Face”
  • Laura Osnes performing “Step in Time,” “Put On a Happy Face” and “Jolly Holiday”
  • Aaron Tveit performing “Step in Time” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
  • Pentatonix performing “Step in Time” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”


Grammy Award-winning violinist Midori rounds out the 43rd Kennedy Center Honors recipients. In 1987, she partook in the ceremony to celebrate honoree Nathan Milstein.

The presenters for her tribute were Gustavo Dudamel, John Lithgow and Bette Midler. The performers included:

  • Yo-Yo Ma performing J.S. Bach’s “Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1”
  • Gil Shaham performing “Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, II. Largo”
  • Adele Anthony performing J.S. Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, II. Largo”
  • Hilary Hahn performing Bernstein’s “Serenade (after Plato’s ‘Symposium’) III: Eryximachus”
  • Randall Goosby performing Paganini’s “Caprice No. 24,” “The Body Electric”
  • Midori’s Orchestra Residencies Program

The 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air on CBS and Paramount+ at 8 p.m. Eastern.

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