Every year, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., presents an inspiring and entertaining evening for its esteemed honorees, and after a bit of controversy, the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors, recorded before a live audience on Dec. 3, lived up to that standard.
Recognizing outstanding artists and performers, the two-hour broadcast saluting LL Cool J, Lionel Richie, Carmen de Lavallade, Norman Lear and Gloria Estefan airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on CBS.
Part of the experience of being an honoree is attending the posh President’s Reception and being seated with the president of the United States and first lady during the gala performances. However, when the 2017 honorees were named, two in particular voiced objections to sharing box seats with President Donald Trump.
Groundbreaking television pioneer Norman Lear, producer of “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and other successful ‘70s sitcoms, threatened to boycott the event over his opposition to Trump, and others expressed their discomfort over meeting the president.
Dancer and choreographer Lavallade spoke with CBS “Sunday Morning” about possibly boycotting the ceremony if Trump attended.
“I’m not political,” she said. “I have my own way of being political. That’s the first time I’ve ever felt that I ... I just can’t.”
CBS News reported that Kennedy Center officials didn’t hide their relief when Trump announced he wouldn’t attend. Kennedy Center President Deborah R. 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.
The broadcast, which is usually a highlight of the holiday season, opens with remarks from Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, and gets underway with a tribute to multiple Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan, presented by actress Eva Longoria. The tribute features appearances by the cast of “On Your Feet! The Musical,” Jon Secada, Becky G, Emily Estefan and Miami Sound Machine, as well as Chaka Khan, who performs “Coming Out of the Dark” with the Howard University Gospel Choir.
Multiple Emmy Award-winning television writer, producer and political activist J.J. Abrams leads the highly entertaining tribute to Lear, which features the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants, comedian Dave Chappelle, Rachel Bloom, Kenya Barris, Anthony Anderson and Rita Moreno, along with Rob “Meathead” Reiner, who presents a performance tribute to “All in the Family.”
Rap pioneer Queen Latifah, a Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe winner, presents a spoken tribute to her colleague LL Cool J, as do fellow hip-hop artists Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots and DJ Z-Trip. The segment features performances by Busta Rhymes, MC Lyte, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, a founding member of Run D.M.C.
Celebrated multiple Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep honors de Lavallade, and the tribute features performances by Sheléa Frazier with dancers Alicia Graf Mack, Linda Celeste Sims and Matthew Rushing.
Jon Batiste, bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” performs “Soul Bossa Nova” with dancers Stella Abrera and Brandon Victor Dixon, and Rebecca Luker performs “Bill” with American Ballet Theater’s prima ballerina Misty Copeland and Tony nominee Robert Fairchild.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stevie Wonder serves as the presenter for Lionel Richie, the recipient of an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and multiple Grammy Awards, and performs Richie’s hit compositions “Hello” and “Easy.” Richie, who began his career as lead singer of the Commodores, is honored with spoken tributes by Kenny Rogers, Quincy Jones and Richie’s daughter, Nicole Richie, while Luke Bryan sings “Penny Lover” and “Sail On.” Leona Lewis performs “Say You Say Me” and “All Night Long.”
Calling the evening “an amazing moment,” LL Cool J acknowledged that 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!”