Kennedy Center Honors Recognize Artists, Skip Trump Drama

2017 Kennedy Center Honoree LL Cool J, Julie Andrews and Norman Lear attend the 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors at The Kennedy Center on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Washington. AP

This year's Kennedy Center Honors recognizing outstanding artists and performers managed to skip the political drama that loomed over it earlier this year — just ask honoree Norman Lear.

Ahead of Sunday night's festivities at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the longtime television producer behind "All in the Family" and other hits reacted with mock surprise when reminded that President Donald Trump was not attending.

Seth Meyers and David Letterman exchange stories about their kids, including a revelation from Letterman that he ordered Chinese food as his wife was in labor with their son. 

(Published Thursday, May 24, 2018)

"Really? Wow!" Lear said as he entered the building. "I'm expecting a warm, funny, wonderful evening. My guess is that the focus tonight will be on the arts."

The president usually sits with the honorees and other guests. But Lear threatened to boycott the event over his opposition to Trump, and other artists expressed unease with the idea of meeting the president. A showdown was avoided when Trump announced in August that he and first lady Melania Trump would not attend.

Another honoree, rapper and actor LL Cool J, called the evening "an amazing, amazing moment" for a hip-hop artist who officials said was the youngest-ever Kennedy Center Honors recipient at 49.

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.

Andy Cohen explains his overreaction to Taylor Swift winning a Billboard Award and chats about Season 2 of "Love Connection," before Jimmy Fallon surprises him with a Doritos and Spaghetti-Os pie for his 50th birthday.

(Published Thursday, May 24, 2018)

"I'm humble, but I'm not going to play pseudo-humble," he said before the program. "I'm the one!"

The 40th annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony also paid tribute to dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade and musicians Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan.

Honorees each 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.

Seth Meyers takes a closer look at President Donald Trump openly interfering in the criminal investigation of his campaign by peddling a baseless conspiracy theory.

(Published Thursday, May 24, 2018)

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 stages into the sets from "Good Times," ''All in the Family" and "Maude," with testimonials from Rob Reiner, Dave Chappelle and Anthony Anderson from the current hit show "Black-ish."

In addition to the Sunday ceremony, this year's recipients were honored Saturday at a gala State Department dinner. The program was to be televised Dec. 26 on CBS.

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, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all missed ceremonies during their terms in office, but in all previous cases the first lady attended.

Andy Cohen and Jimmy Fallon face off against Mindy Kaling and Tarik Trotter in a game where they are given random categories and earn points by matching as many of their partner's answers as possible. 

(Published Thursday, May 24, 2018)

Kennedy Center officials didn't hide their relief when Trump announced he wouldn't attend. 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.