WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With the notable absence of President Donald Trump, the Kennedy Center on Sunday celebrated singers Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan, rapper LL Cool J, television producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade with honors for the arts.
The Kennedy Center Honors are considered the highest recognition in the country for artists across many fields, and the importance of the annual event is usually underscored by a White House reception with the president and the first lady.
Not this year.
The White House said in August that Trump and his wife, Melania, would not attend, so that those honored could enjoy the event “without any political distraction.” The White House reception was also canceled after some honorees said they would boycott it.
De Lavallade, 86, said she decided she could not attend such an event after Trump said both right- and left-wing extremists were at fault in a white supremacist rally in Virginia where one woman died.
“Something in my soul … said no,” she told reporters.
The show at the Kennedy Center itself went on with minimal politics and a lot of star power.
Musicians, including Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones and Kenny Rogers, paid tribute to Richie, known for hits such as “Three Times a Lady” and “Say You, Say Me.” Singer Leona Lewis finished with a rocking rendition of Richie’s hit song, “All Night Long,” bringing the audience to its feet.
Singer and songwriter Estefan, 60, who was born in Havana, Cuba, was feted by her daughter, Emily, who delivered a moving rendition of her mother’s song “Reach.”
The elder Estefan said she was thankful Trump chose not to attend. “Whenever something becomes more about the controversy than the actual achievements of the people that are receiving the award, it kinda dampens it for everybody,” she told Reuters on Saturday.
LL Cool J, 49, who stars in the television show “NCIS Los Angeles,” made history by becoming the…