Kennedy gongs for Sally Field, Sesame St

The Kennedy Center Honors feted artists for their work on the big screen, small screen and stage.
The Kennedy Center Honors feted artists for their work on the big screen, small screen and stage.

Singer Linda Ronstadt, actress Sally Field and music group Earth, Wind & Fire have received the United States' top award for the arts with a rocking, rousing performance at the annual Kennedy Center Honors show in Washington, DC.

Children's television program Sesame Street and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas rounded out the group of five honorees who were feted for successful, decades-long contributions to the small screen, large screen and stage.

With potential impeachment looming, President Donald Trump did not attend the event or hold the customary reception for the honorees at the White House.

Politics dotted, but did not dominate, the evening.

"The arts is about bringing people together," said the show's host, actor LL Cool J. "These are times when that's needed."

The crowd at the Kennedy Center gave Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, a standing ovation when she was recognised after intermission.

Pelosi, a Democrat, has directed the impeachment process against Trump.

The overwhelming focus of the night remained on the artists and their work.

Singer Carrie Underwood wowed the audience with a version of Ronstadt's song Blue Bayou while singers Aaron Neville and Trisha Yearwood performed a moving version of the duet Don't Know Much that Ronstadt recorded with Neville earlier in her career.

Ronstadt is retired and suffers from Parkinson's disease.

Sesame Street became the first television show to become a Kennedy Center honoree. The show teaches children numbers and letters and celebrates diversity.

A tribute was made to Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who brought to life popular character Big Bird, who died on Sunday aged 85.

Australian Associated Press