Introduced by actress Lucy Liu and joined by Sesame Street legend Elmo, singer Thomas Rhett helped pay homage to the long-running children’s series at the Kennedy Center Honors gala Sunday night. Although its core audience might not be aware, 2019 has been a bittersweet year for the educational and entertaining series, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last month, having made its PBS debut on November 10th, 1969. And just last week, original Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch puppeteer Caroll Spinney died, having retired from the show in October 2018. But as the loving tribute emphasized, togetherness and music can go a long way toward lifting moods.
Rhett was on hand to perform the upbeat “This Is My Street,” which was first introduced earlier this year to help commemorate the show’s golden anniversary. For this performance, he was joined by just a handful of Muppets, including Elmo, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Grover, Abby Cadabby and Cookie Monster. A mixture of smiles and tears greeted the sweet performance as cameras captured the reaction of audience members including filmmaker (and past honoree) Steven Spielberg and singer Carrie Underwood – who earlier paid tribute to honoree Linda Ronstadt.
The segment also included a sneak peek behind the Sesame Street curtain as the puppeteers and others took the stage for a sing-along version of one of the first songs from the series to become a hit record. “Sing,” penned by Joe Raposo and first introduced on Sesame Street in 1971, became a Top Five pop hit for duo the Carpenters in 1973, selling more than a million copies. Among others who have performed it on the show through the years was Lily Tomlin, who signed it to a group of deaf children in 1975, the same year she played the mother of a pair of hearing-impaired children in the film, Nashville. The Dixie Chicks also performed “Sing” on Sesame Street in 2002.
In addition to Sesame Street and Linda Ronstadt, others recognized with Kennedy Center Honors during Sunday night’s telecast were Earth, Wind & Fire, actress Sally Field and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.