Gloria Estefan, LL Cool J among Kennedy Center honorees

WASHINGTON (AP) — This year’s Kennedy Center honorees will include two singers, a television writer, a dancer – and for the first time, a hip-hop artist.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts.

The honorees will be celebrated at a gala on Dec. 3, featuring performances and tributes from top entertainers and attended by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump. The show will be broadcast on Dec. 26 on CBS.

Here’s a look at this year’s honorees:

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LL Cool J

“Yo, this is amazing.” That was LL Cool J’s reaction to being the first hip-hop artist awarded a Kennedy Center Honor.

“To be able to go from the corner in Queens beatin’ on a garbage can to getting a Kennedy Center Honor with this type of company and to be first is just an amazing feeling. You know, it just adds another level of legitimacy to hip-hop culture,” he said in a telephone interview.

LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith, began his rap career as a teenager. His debut album, “Radio,” was released in 1985 and more albums soon followed. In 1992, he won his first of two Grammy awards for best rap solo performance for “Mama Said Knock You Out.” He earned a second for “Hey Lover” in 1997.

Beyond music, he has branched out to working in television. Since 2015 he has hosted Spike TV’s reality show “Lip Sync Battle.” The show was nominated for an Emmy in 2016 and again in 2017. He also currently stars in the CBS drama “NCIS: Los Angeles,” where he plays special agent Sam Hanna.

Still, the 49-year-old says his “first love is hip-hop.”

“That’s always going to be my first love, but I’m an entertainer,” he said, adding that he likes to “create,” whether it’s music or TV shows, content that “entertains the world.”

His most recent album, “Authentic,” was released in 2013.

“There’s definitely more history to be written. You know, one day I’ll get back in the studio. You never know what can happen,” he said.

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Gloria Estefan

Singer Gloria Estefan…

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