Brooks, who is a 43rd Kennedy Center Honoree, honored the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with a special performance of “Midnight Train To Georgia,” while Guyton, a GRAMMY nominated country singer, delivered a stunning rendition of “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.”
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Donning a black cowboy hat and button-up shirt with an suit coat and blue jeans, Brooks delivered an impressive rendition of “Midnight Train To Georgia.” Written Jim Weatherly, the song was appears on Gladys Knight and the Pips’ 1973 LP, Imagination, and became the group’s first single to top the Billboard Hot 100, according to Wikipedia. The track also won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus.
“He’s leaving (leaving) / On that midnight train to Georgia (leaving on a midnight train) / Hmm, yeah / Said he’s going back (going back to find) / To a simpler place and time (and when he takes that ride) / Oh yes, he is (guess who’s gonna sit right by his side),” Brooks sang.
After his performance of Knight’s signature hit, Brooks praised the iconic R&B singer as one of the “greatest performers in history.”
“I’ve honored other artists and I got honored last year and now I’m back to honor another artist and I got to tell you honoring the other artist is the fun part,” Brook said. “Getting to do one of the greatest songs in history for one of the greatest performers in history was a little much for me tonight, but what an honor to get to sing ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ for one of the sweetest, most beautiful souls, both inside and out, Gladys Knight.”
Guyton, a four-time GRAMMY nominee, also honored Knight with a beautiful rendition of “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” Wearing a gorgeous gold gown, Guyton performed the iconic hit as Knight watched on from the star-studded audience.
“If anyone should ever write my life story / (For whatever reason there might be) / For whatever reason there might be / Ooh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory / ‘Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me / (You’re the best thing that ever happened to me) / Ah, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” Guyton sang on the tune’s chorus.
The “Black Like Me” singer admitted after the performance that she was very nervous performing the adored song.
“It was such an emotional moment for me, because I love Gladys so much,” Guyton shared during a backstage interview. “Singing such an iconic song, that was really nerve-wracking. But then when I just looked at her, and sang it to her, it kind of helped with the nerves. We air-hugged at the end. It was just beautiful.”
Guyton went on to praise Knight.
“It’s the voice first. It’s her voice and her spirit, and her energy is what has inspired me. Her being a strong woman, backed up by men with The Pips was just such an iconic thing,” she continued. “And what she went through with all the civil rights — just everything. She has just triumphed through so much. And no matter what obstacles came her way, her voice always carried her through. And I think that’s awesome.”
Ariana Debose and Patti LaBelle also paid homage to Knight with performances of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “That’s What Friends Are For,” respectively. LaBelle’s performance also featured Brooks, Guyton and Debose.
Filmed on Sunday, December 4 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C., the 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors aired via CBS on Wednesday evening (Dec. 28) at 8 PM EST. The show also streamed on Paramount+.
The 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors celebrated honorees Gladys Knight, Amy Grant, U2, George Clooney and Tania León and featured tribute performances from Garth Brooks, Mickey Guyton, Dianne Reeves, Ariana Debose, Patti LaBelle, Sheryl Crow, The Highwomen (Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires), BeBe Winans, CeCe Winans, Dianne Reeves, Hozier, Jamala, Michael W. Smith, the Howard Gospel Choir, Alicia Hall Moran, Sphinx Organization, Joe Kwon of Avett Brothers, Jeri Lynne Johnson, Chloe Flower, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Sacha Baron Cohen (as Borat).
The event also featured narration by Brad Pitt, Anna Deavere Smith, and Wesley Morris.
Additionally, the 2-hour awards ceremony included a star-studded list of presenters, including Julia Roberts, Richard Kind, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Nick Clooney, Katie Couric, Carmen de Lavallade, Sean Penn, President Joe Biden and more.