Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center Honors

By: Nayo Campbell

This year’s Kennedy Center Honorees included Singer/Songwriter Lionel Richie, Screenwriter and Creator Norman Lear, Singer/Conga Queen Gloria Estefan, Dancer Carmen de Lavallade and Hip Hop Mogul LL Cool J. Dec. 3 marked the 40th anniversary of the annual Kennedy Center Honors held in Washington D.C.

The Kennedy Center Honors have been highly talked about in the news after President Trump made headlines for saying that he will not be in attendance for this year’s honors. This was the first time in 20 years that the President was not in attendance and the first ever for non-diplomatic reasons.

However, without the President in attendance the show was still a night to remember. The honorees were all excited and thrilled to be added to this new class of Kennedy Center Honorees.  This class included many of firsts from Gloria Estefan being the first Cuban artist to be honored with LL Cool J being the youngest and first Hip Hop Artist to be honored, and Norman Lear being the oldest.



Gloria Estefan, the Queen of Conga and Grammy Award winning singer, was excited to be honored this year and to represent all of her people from Cuba. Gloria Estefan is known for interjecting both the Latin culture within pop culture and has had hits such as “Don’t Wanna Lose You” and “Mi Tierra.” Her honorees included singer Becky G, who spoke about how she is inspired by Ms. Estefan. “She is both worlds and lives in both of them simultaneously, and that freedom is so liberating,” she said. Her other honorees included the cast of the show “On Your Feet”, Chaka Khan, and her daughter Emily Estefan.  Estefan was clueless when it came to who would be honored but she certainly was prepared to cry “No they do not give us one hint, and I am agent private eye. But I am excited to be surprised in a good way,” she said.

In the Kennedy Center’s 40 years of the program, they have never honored the world of Hip Hop. However, this year marked the first time a Hip Hop Artist would be honored and LL Cool J was the distinguished mogul to take home that honor. When asked how he felt about being the first he said, “It feels amazing, I’m grateful, I’m humbled because I know how hard it was to get to this moment. Its not easy, its not all about some type of genius plan either. There is some luck involved, blessings involved, and a couple people putting their hand around you at the right moment. A couple chorus’s got written the right way a lot went into this moment to get you here. So it feels like a reward for a lot of heavy lifting and that’s an amazing feeling.” And that reward did not fall short, his honor included a live group of background dancers and fans. Queen Latifah narrated his tribute as well other rap legends such as Questlove, DBusta Rhymes, MC Lyte and DMC. By the end of the tribute the audience was standing in awe.

Also honored was Carmen De Lavallade who grew up dancing with Alvin Ailey. De Lavallade has been dancing for over 60 years, and came into prominence in the early 40s and 50s. She spoke of the struggle of being a black female dancer and said, “People didn’t take dancing so seriously then, oh its just the dancers. We were ignored a great deal and we were able to be taught her craft.” Her cousin was the ballerina Janet Cooke and De Lavallade said she experienced more issues Cooke. “Walking behind Janet’s Shoes, because she was the one that broke the doors down,” she said. The tribute to De Lavallade was quite touching and truly showcased some of her notable dances over the years and also featured a few fan favorites( Misty Copeland and former student Meryl Streep).

Norman Lear was the oldest honoree of the night, but the honor was definitely well-deserved. He also made the joke that he was honored to be representing his race because he was the only Caucasian person honored at this year’s honors. Mr. Lear walked the carpet and spoke briefly with the press about his excitement of attending the awards. The tribute narrated by comedian Dave Chapelle, J.J. Abrams and Ron Reiner made sure to touch all of his classics and give a brief history lesson on the importance Lears shows.

Lastly, the show ended with a tribute to none other than Lionel Richie. Lionel Richie is known not only for his solo career but also for his early-career work with the group The Commodores.” Throughout his career, he as also earned songwriting stripes by working closely with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson on “We Are the World.” When asked on the red carpet how he felt about Trump not being there his response was short and sweet “I asked this question: Did I get this Award? The answer was yes, and I said Alright, I’m coming.” To no surprise, Lionel Richie’s tribute was star studded and former Kennedy Center Honorees Quincy Jones narrated while Stevie Wonder stole the show singing both “Hello” and “Easy”. Richie, was also honored by Kenny Rodgers, Leona Lewis, Nicole Richie and Luke Bryan. By the end of the tribute, the room was left in a awe.

Although the President was not in attendance, it certainly didn’t affect the atmosphere. Instead, guests of the show stated that this was possibly one of the best Kennedy Center Honors they have ever attended. It was truly a night for the arts and showcased this array of honorees in the best light possible. The Kennedy Center Honors truly showcased the importance of honoring the arts, especially the essential roles African-Americans and Latinos have played over the years. After 40 years of highlighting the arts, the Kennedy Centers certainly did not fall short this year and instead pushed the level of excellence just a little bit higher.

The program will air on December 26th on CBS at 8pm EST.

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