Oprah Helps D.C. Salute Tina Turner

With Queen Latifah and Beyonce, the Kennedy Center Honors generate star power

Photo: Robin Platzer/Twin Images

Oprah Winfrey, Queen Latifah and Beyonce rocked politicos with their tribute to Tina Turner on Sunday, as entertainment superseded politics in Washington to make room for this year’s Kennedy Center honorees.

Besides Turner, those honored included actors Robert Redford and Julie Harris, singer Tony Bennett and ballerina and teacher Suzanne Farrell.

“If there was an award for biggest known groupie of Tina Turner’s,” Oprah told the crowd, “I would win it.”

Oprah went on to describe her “Wildest Dream Tour,” in which she went on the road with Turner and how she had a Tina wig made up so she could shake her hair like the rock diva. Winfrey said her longtime beau, Graham Steadman, “finally came to me one day and said you’ve taken this too far. You are not Tina Turner and you look ridiculous in that wig.”

Meanwhile, Beyonce stopped the show with her rendition of “Proud Mary,” Queen Latifah bravely covered Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and a healthy and hip-looking Melissa Etheridge belted out a medley of Turner songs, all to a thunderous ovation from a crowd that included the current administration – President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their wives Laura and Lynne – as well as former first daughter Caroline Kennedy.

Kennedy opened the ceremony by welcoming the honorees – “each of them is an American original,” she said – and noting that her father, President John F. Kennedy, had once said that as a nation we “will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” She then looked up at the honorees and said: “You’ve graced our lives.”

Of Redford, not only did Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admit she swooned over him when he starred in 1973’s The Way We Were, but his Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid costar Paul Newman good-naturedly griped that his towheaded sidekick can never show up anywhere on time.

“Backstage,” said Newman, “they think the only reason he’s even in the vicinity was because they told him this whole thing was yesterday.”

Glenn Close also told the crowd that Redford convinced her to star alongside him in “The Natural,” after she initially turned down the role, by insisting upon meeting her face to face – whereupon she was won over once he “smiled that smile.”

Vanessa Williams crooned the Bennett classic “The Best Is Yet To Come,” while Kevin Spacey described the influence Harris had on his career.

Farrell’s former dance partner Jacques d’Amboise – one of PEOPLE’s past Heroes Among Us honorees – said that he was often in awe of her speed and strength. At times he said he thought, “I can’t keep up with her. And I’m supposed to catch her.”

The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast Dec. 27 on CBS.

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