The 31st annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington opened Sunday with Denzel Washington and Clint Eastwood toasting the night’s first honoree, Morgan Freeman.

According to Variety, Washington discussed the actor’s difficult road to stardom, which included years of bit parts and even a gig dancing behind Chita Rivera at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. He said the movie star’s memorable role in Driving Miss Daisy persuaded Hollywood that Freeman “could give truth to any character he played.”

The Oscar-winner’s love of blues was represented by musical tributes from B.B. King and Koko Taylor.

Other artists presented with the Kennedy Center’s prestigious life achievement award were Barbara Streisand, country singer George Jones, choreographer Twyla Tharp and British rockers Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey of The Who.

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