On Dec. 8, 1996, Johnny Cash joined Edward Albee, Benny Carter, Jack Lemmon and Maria Tallchief as that year's Kennedy Center honorees.
Kristofferson began the tribute with one of his own high points as a songwriter, "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Lovett's rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues" followed, as did a version of "Ring of Fire" by Harris. That was all as great as you might expect, but the evening's most memorable moment was yet to come.
Rosanne Cash pushed the presentation to a whole different level when she sang "Walk the Line," a song the elder Cash wrote for her mother, Vivian Liberto. All four singers' spirited take on gospel classic "I'll Fly Away" closed things out, and it found Cash fighting the urge uncontrollably sob (while President Bill Clinton was not even trying to shut off the waterworks).
According to Cash's website, Vice President Al Gore recommended Cash for the honor as an artist whose music examines "the entire range of existence, failure and recovery, entrapment and escape, weakness and strength, loss and redemption, life and death."
The Kennedy Center Honors have also recognized such country music legends as Merle Haggard, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. Other musical acts honored over the years for their impact on American culture include folk artist Pete Seeger and classic rock 'n' rollers Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and The Eagles.
CBS broadcast the 1996 Kennedy Center Honors, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., on Dec. 26.