Queen Latifah was in her dressing room on the set of the TV drama “The Equalizer” in Brooklyn when she heard the news: she had been chosen as a Kennedy Center honoree.
“I was just in shock for a second,” she said in an interview. “I just sat there and looked out the window at New York City and thought ‘Wow, can you believe this?’”
Billy Crystal was also caught off guard when he got the call. “When they said, ‘Hold on we want to talk to you,’ I said, ‘Oh, am I being audited?’ ” he recalled.
They will receive the 46th Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievement on Dec. 3 with Grammy-winning singer Dionne Warwick, the soprano Renée Fleming and the pop singer and songwriter Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees.
Queen Latifah, who is only the second hip-hop artist to be named an honoree (LL Cool J was honored in 2017), called the accolade an overdue celebration of hip-hop’s contribution to the arts in America. This year’s gala — which typically draws the President and other leading officials — coincides with hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.
“It will allow us a moment to be part of the fabric of America, which is really what we are,” she said. “It will be one night where the people who are in the highest offices in the most powerful nation in the world will honor hip-hop music and one of its daughters.”
The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast at a later date by CBS and hosted by Gloria Estefan.
Crystal, the Tony and Emmy-winning comedian and actor who was a cast member of Saturday Night Live and starred in films including “When Harry Met Sally” and “City Slickers,” said in an interview that he began tearing up when he learned he had been selected as an honoree.
Images from his long career raced through his head: of telling jokes to his parents as a kid, of early gigs as a stand-up comedian in Greenwich Village, of the nine times he hosted the Academy Awards.
“I just thought of all the people I worked with, all the frustrations and ups and downs and middles,” he said. “And it’s all condensed into hearing them saying you are one of the honorees.”
Warwick, who captivated millions with hit songs including “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By,” and “I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” said it was “about time” the Kennedy Center gave her this honor for a lifetime of singing. “I’ve earned it,” she said.
She added that singing “is the gift God gave me and I’m using it the way he wants me to use it and also the way people want me to use it.”
Fleming, who has sung at the Metropolitan Opera and the world’s leading opera houses and concert halls, as well as at Buckingham Palace, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the Super Bowl, said she was driving back from a shopping trip to Lowe’s when she heard the news that she had been chosen to be honored. She quickly pulled over.
“It’s something you always dream about,” she said.
Gibb, the only surviving member of the Bee Gees, which he formed with his two brothers, said he never imagined he would be an honoree.
The award made him think of his brothers; he recalled telling then when he was 8 years old that he wanted to be a pop star.
“I remember, on the street corner telling them that was what I wanted to do, and they said, ‘Oh can we be pop stars too?’ ” he recalled. “It was a very simple childish conversation. And that was the decision. That was the turning point for us. We would do it together.”
“I wish they were here,” he said, “so they could share this.”