A New Day at the Kennedy Center Honors

by Janet Donovan

Hip hop artists pay homage to LL Cool J at the 40th annual Kennedy Center Honors. (Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS)

The 40th anniversary of the Kennedy Center Honors shone the spotlight on five artists “whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America,” said Chairman David Rubenstein.Those performing in their honor included Kenny Rogers, Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Julie Andrews, Questlove & The Roots, Quincy Jones, Misty Copeland, Rita Moreno and Eva Longoria. All lit up the stage with eclectic song and dance to celebrate the 2017 honorees: musician and record producer Lionel Richie, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, Cuban American singer-songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan, television producer Norman Lear and LL Cool J, the first hip hop artist to be recognized with the award. Notably missing: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, who bowed out of the festivities after some of the award recipients said they would not attend the traditional White House reception in protest of the president’s policies. We caught up with the honorees on the red carpet as they reflected on the night and on their careers.

Gloria Estefan on why she agreed to come with or without the presence of President Trump: “I believe in this country. I respect the office of the presidency very much. I particularly would have wanted him to see an example of what an immigrant offers this country. But I am also very appreciative that the president chose not to come because what happens is that a beautiful night for all of us gets mired in politics and controversy and then it becomes about something else.”

Lionel Richie on to whom he owes his success: “Thank God for The Commodores because without them there would be no Lionel Richie. And I think about Tuskegee and those wonderful airmen who raised me and told me that failure was not an option.”

LL Cool J on the effect of his music: “My mission is always to help people escape from their everyday problems and help them dream a little more … to make people smile and forget about their problems.”

Carmen de Lavallade on receiving the news of winning: “It was wonderful because my husband and I had been coming for 35 years. This was part of our Christmas present to ourselves every year. I’m kind of having an out of body experience right now. To be part of this family … is just a great honor and I’m so pleased.”

Norman Lear on the evening: “It was fabulous, all fabulous. I loved the part that was about me.”

This story appears in the February 2018.

Related Articles