You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Kennedy Center Honors: The Show Goes on Without a Hitch and Without Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The absence of President Donald Trump didn’t put much of a damper on Sunday’s 40th annual Kennedy Center Honors.

A lineup of all-star talent feted this year’s recipients: singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, TV legend Norman Lear, dancer-choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, rapper-actor LL Cool J, and singer-songwriter Lionel Richie.

The evening went off without a hitch, but it was a rare Honors event that did not feature the sitting U.S. president watching the proceedings from a prime perch in a box seat. As such, the first KenCen honors of Trump’s presidency marked another sign of the up-ending of Washington tradition in the Trump era. The President and first lady Melania Trump bowed out of the event back in August when three of the honorees balked at attending the traditional White House reception that accompanies the KenCen honors. 

Another personality out of the mix on Sunday was Stephen Colbert, who has emceed the past three editions of the ceremony, which will air Dec. 26 as a special on CBS.

The event proceeded without a formal emcee, a format occasionally used in the past. Caroline Kennedy offered a brief welcome, and some emcee-like duties were fulfilled by 2001 KenCen honoree Quincy Jones.

The gala was again produced by Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner of White Cherry Entertainment. They continue to experiment with a format devised by founding producer George Stevens Jr. and partners, including less structured use of a video reprise of each artist’s life and career. 

First up was honoree Estefan, who was praised by actress Eva Longoria and the cast of the Kennedy Center’s upcoming production of the musical “On Your Feet,” inspired by the life story of Estefan and her husband and collaborator, Emilio Estefan. Other participants included singer Chaka Khan and Jon Secada, and Estefan’s longtime Miami Sound Machine band.

The salute to Lear, as expected, included clips and other reflections about his landmark TV shows, “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “One Day At a Time,” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” Each was highlighted against an ever-changing array of sets as appropriate. “All in the Family” star Rob Reiner was on hand to salute Lear at the presidential box before a set that included the iconic living room chairs of Archie and Edith Bunker, which were on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

“Archie wouldn’t let me sit in his chair, and the Smithsonian won’t let me either,” Reiner explained.

The segment for LL Cool J, the center’s first hip-hop honoree, featured a glowing appreciation from Queen Latifah and tributes from an array of rap artists. Actress Meryl Streep dropped by to reminisce about de Lavallade, especially the three years she spent as her student at the Yale University School of Drama. Other artists for de Lavallade’s segment included American Ballet Theater principal Misty Copeland.

Reserving the Richie tribute for last, the center opened with Stevie Wonder at the piano to sing “I Love You” and “Easy.” Singer Kenny Rogers narrated the film tribute while country star Luke Bryan delivered a medley of Richie faves.

(Pictured: Back row: Lionel Richie, LL Cool J. Front row: Carmen de Lavallade, Norman Lear, and Gloria Estefan)

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Youngest Media, Headed By Ex Endemol

    Youngest Media, Headed By Former Endemol Shine Execs, Launches German Subsidiary

    Youngest Media, the content studio led by former Endemol Shine U.K. executives Lucas Church and David Flynn, has launched a subsidiary in Germany. The German arm, headed by Mark Stehli, has received its first order: a German version of reality series “Battle of the Bands” for channel RTL II. Stehli, who has the title managing [...]

  • Judith Light'Transparent' TV show Musical Finale,

    'Transparent' Team Talks 'Transformative Energy' of Trans Community

    As Amazon Prime Video prepares to send off “Transparent” with a musical finale movie on Sept. 27, the cast and creative team behind the show are hoping the impact of a character such as Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) will not be overshadowed by the controversy that the actor who portrayed Maura caused. “I believe that [...]

  • Cherry Jones

    Cherry Jones Wins 2019 Guest Drama Actress Emmy

    Cherry Jones won the 2019 guest drama actress Emmy for her work as the titular character’s mother, Holly Osborne, in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This was Jones’ second consecutive nomination for the role but first win. Interestingly, both noms were for her work in the second season of the dystopian streaming series. After a few [...]

  • Jane Lynch, Cyndi Lauper Developing 'Golden

    Jane Lynch, Cyndi Lauper Developing 'Golden Girls'-Style Comedy for Netflix

    Jane Lynch and Cyndi Lauper just wanna have fun. The comedian and the 1980s music icon have joined forces to star in a new comedy project that may be heading to Netflix. Lynch let it slip backstage at the Creative Arts Emmys that she and Lauper will co-star in a comedy that she described as [...]

  • Luke Kirby71st Annual Primetime Creative Arts

    Luke Kirby Wins 2019 Guest Comedy Actor Emmy

    Luke Kirby has been crowned the winner of the 2019 guest comedy actor Emmy for his role as the real-life comic Lenny Bruce on Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” This was Kirby’s first-ever Emmy attention. He was nominated against a slew of “Saturday Night Live” players (Robert De Niro, John Mulaney and Adam [...]

  • Bradley Whitford photographed at the PMC

    Bradley Whitford Wins 2019 Guest Drama Actor Emmy

    Bradley Whitford won the 2019 guest drama actor Emmy for his role of Commander Joseph Lawrence on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Whitford joined the cast of the streaming dystopian series at the end of its second season, in episodes that were released after the close of the 2018 Emmy eligibility window. The Television Academy agreed [...]

  • TV Review: 'Transparent' Series Finale

    TV Review: 'Transparent' Series Finale

    Amazon’s “Transparent” will have a chapter, or a section of one, in some to-be-written history of television, in part thanks to how brazen and how daring its ideas were for its moment. Some of those were ideas that came to seem simply logical in retrospect: The show was a pathbreaker for trans representation onscreen, casting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content