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LL Cool J, Lionel Richie, and Gloria Estefan Awarded Kennedy Center Honors at Trump-Free Ceremony

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 02: The five recipients of the 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors pose for a group photo following a dinner hosted by United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in their honor at the US Department of State on December 2, 2017 in Washington, D.C. From left to right back row: LL Cool J and Lionel Richie Front row, left to right: Carmen de Lavallade, Norman Lear and Gloria Estefan. The 2017 honorees are: American dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade; Cuban American singer-songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan; American hip hop artist and entertainment icon LL COOL J; American television writer and producer Norman Lear; and American musician and record producer Lionel Richie. (Photo by Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images)

LL Cool J is now the first hip-hop artist to ever receive a Kennedy Center Honor. The award was bestowed upon the legendary Queens rapper at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington, D.C. last night, along with Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie, TV producer and writer Norman Lear, and dancer and actress Carmen de Lavallade.  Queen Latifah paid tribute to LL at the ceremony, and there was a performance by Busta Rhymes and members of The Roots. Stevie Wonder, along with Luke Bryan and Kenny Rogers, led the Richie tribute (Wonder performed “Hello”), while Estefan was honored by Eva Longoria, Chaka Khan, and Jon Secada.

Donald and Melania Trump did not attend the D.C. ceremony at the Kennedy Center or the customary White House reception, a decision which was made in August, after Lavallade and Lear categorically refused to attend any reception at which Trump, who has advocated heavily for cutting arts funding, was in attendance. Saturday night’s State Department dinner at the White House was hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and featured some not-so-veiled political jibes from some of the night’s speakers, as the New York Times reports. (Senator Nancy Pelosi was at the dinner, and apparently paid tribute to LL with a hug and a bit of back-and-forth about the meaning of hip-hop. “Hip-hop is the culture surrounding it: these earrings, this hat,” LL explained, according to the NYT. “And the dancing!” Pelosi added.)

Trump’s absence marks the first time in the 40-year run of the Kennedy Center Honors that a sitting president and/or First Lady has been absent from the proceedings. LL told Ellen DeGeneres in September that “it would have been tough” for him if Trump had decided to attend, and that the president’s presence “would’ve been a distraction, and it would’ve been more about who’s standing next to who and less about the actual art form and the hip-hop that I worked my heart out over these years to do what I’m doing.”

The full Honors ceremony will air on CBS on December 26 at 8pm.