NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Some of the most impactful artists were recognized Sunday night at the 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C.
Five entertainers received what’s considered the nation’s top award for lifetime achievement in arts and pop culture.
The 2017 honorees included Norman Lear, the iconic television producer behind “All in the Family” and a string of other hits, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade and musicians Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan.
Queens native LL Cool J, whose real name is James Todd Smith, became the first artist billed as a rapper to be honored. Officials said he’s also the youngest-ever Kennedy Center Honors recipient at 49.
“I am sharing with the hip hop community, I’m sharing this with the hip hop culture. What I’m not going to do is make this about me, this is really about the culture that I’m representing,” LL Cool J said.
He said there were many deserving rappers and performers from his generation but would not go so far as to say that anybody deserved the honor over him.
“I’m humble, but I’m not going to play pseudo-humble,” he said before the program. “I’m the one!”
Each honoree received a lengthy and personally tailored onstage tribute sprinkled with surprise guests.
Estefan was greeted with performances of her greatest hits and a solo performance by her daughter Emily. For LL Cool J, they recreated a club onstage with performances by Busta Rhymes and members of The Roots as well as a testimonial by Queen Latifah.
For Lear, a series of quick changes transformed the stage into the sets from “Good Times,” ”All in the Family” and “Maude,” with tributes from Rob Reiner, Dave Chappelle and Anthony Anderson from the current hit show “Black-ish.”
De Lavallade received a personal testimonial from 2011 Kennedy Center Honors recipient Meryl Streep, who was her student at Yale University. Richie was honored with a surprise performance of his hit “Hello” by Stevie Wonder, and the evening ended with everyone in attendance standing and dancing to “All Night Long.”
In addition to the Sunday ceremony, this year’s recipients were honored Saturday at a gala State Department dinner. The program will be televised Dec. 26 on CBS.
The president usually sits in the same box with the honorees and other guests. In the past, most U.S. presidents have attended the ceremony, but it’s not unprecedented for a sitting president to skip it. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton all missed ceremonies during their terms in office, but in all previous cases the first lady attended.
Kennedy Center officials didn’t hide their relief when Trump announced in August that he wouldn’t attend this year. Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter and Chairman David M. Rubenstein released a statement saying they were “grateful” to the Trumps for avoiding a conflict that would overshadow the ceremony.
“In choosing not to participate in this year’s honor’s activities, the administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees,” the statement said.
On Sunday night, Rutter repeated her appreciation of Trump’s decision, but wouldn’t speculate if his absence would become a reality for the next three years of his presidential term.
“I believe it’s important to have the President of the United States appearing here and paying tribute to the arts community on nights like this,” she said.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)