Garth Brooks couldn’t hold back his tears during last year’s 43rd Kennedy Center Honors.

As one of the ceremony’s five honorees, he sat in the audience while other artists paid tribute to his work. He cried during Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “The Dance.” And when Gladys Knight took the stage to perform “We Shall Be Free,” Brooks again became visibly emotional.

It only took Knight singing a few words of the country star’s hit song for an overwhelmed Brooks to cover his mouth as the tears started to flow. By the end of Knight’s performance, the two artists were blowing kisses to each other.

A year later, Brooks got the chance to pay his respects to Knight on the very same stage.

Garth Brooks honors Gladys Knight at 45th Kennedy Center Honors

Knight was one of five artists celebrated during the 45th Kennedy Center Honors, along with George Clooney, Amy Grant, Tania León and U2, according to the

For the part of the program honoring Knight’s contributions to and influences on American culture, Brooks performed Knight’s monster hit “Midnight Train to Georgia” — accompanied by Knight’s backup singers The Pips.

“Gladys Knight is not only the Empress of Soul, she’s the heart and soul of soul,” Brooks said in a statement shared on his website. “When she sang ‘We Shall Be Free’ last year, I couldn’t stop smiling and crying. And when they asked me to pay tribute to her, I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough.”

Knight smiled and beamed as Brooks brought her song to life for the audience in Washington, D.C. Following the performance — which was filmed on Dec. 4 and aired on Dec. 28 — Brooks called Knight one of the “greatest performers in history,” Music Mayhem Magazine reported.

“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,” Brooks said, according to Music Mayhem Magazine. “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.”

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Brooks later joined Patti LaBelle, Mickey Guyton and Ariana DeBose for a rendition of Knight’s song “That’s What Friends are For.”

What Gladys Knight said about being a Kennedy Center Honoree

Knight, who has seven Grammys and is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, said being a Kennedy Center Honoree is one of the highlights of her career.

“I stand here with my fans, my family, my friends, my team, and my faith in accepting such an amazing distinction,” said Knight, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I’m humbled beyond words to be included amongst this prestigious group of individuals, both past and present.

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“You could never have told me as a young girl starting my career that I would be honored on a stage such as this, with artists and humanitarians such as these — it just wouldn’t have seemed possible,” she continued. “It would have been the dream of all dreams. I have been blessed with so much in my life, and this certainly stands with those achievements at the top of that list.”

Note: The 45th Kennedy Center Honors is available to stream on and Paramount+.