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Tom Hanks, Sting and Lily Tomlin Bask at Kennedy Center Honors

  • Reuters

Hollywood stars, ballet dancers, and soul singers on Sunday celebrated Kennedy Center Honors winners actor Tom Hanks, singer-songwriter Sting and comedienne Lily Tomlin during Washington's high-profile tribute to excellence in the arts.

Ballerina Patricia McBride and singer Al Green completed the group of artists who sported the prestigious prize on a night of dance and song.

The evening began with a tribute to Green, whose hit tune "Let's Stay Together" drew political as well as artistic attention when President Barack Obama publicly crooned a few of its lines earlier in his presidency.

"I've been keeping his traditions alive," the president joked at a White House ceremony.

"He did a great job. He sounded better than me," Green told reporters ahead of the show, which featured spirited performances of his soulful music by singers Usher, Jennifer Hudson, and Earth Wind & Fire.

McBride, who worked for 28 years as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, watched as some of her protégées glided across the stage in her honor.

"When I hung up the toe shoes I didn't look back, but I went forward. And I remember all my years with joy and wonder," she told reporters before the show.

Hanks represented the top Hollywood draw of the night.

The actor who won Oscars for his roles in the films "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump," joked that he didn't belong among the list of awardees.

"I couldn't believe it when I was notified that it was going to happen," he told Reuters. "I feel like, you know, there's an anomaly in the vote-taking process."

Film director Steven Spielberg and actor Martin Short paid tribute to Hanks after a montage of his top roles played on a large screen.

Actresses Jane Lynch and Jane Fonda feted Tomlin, renowned for her performances of telephone operator "Ernestine" on television show "Laugh-In" and roles in movies such as "Nashville" and "9 to 5."

Then came the musical surprises: Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, and Bruno Mars rocked the stage with highlights from Sting's varied career.

"[To] have other people sing my songs and have to do virtually nothing but smile is quite something," Sting told Reuters.

Comedian Stephen Colbert hosted the show, which will be broadcast on the U.S. television network, CBS, on Dec 30.

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