WASHINGTON (AP) — This year’s Kennedy Center honorees will include two singers, a television writer, a dancer – and for the first time, a hip-hop artist.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts.
The honorees will be celebrated at a gala on Dec. 3, featuring performances and tributes from top entertainers and attended by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump. The show will be broadcast on Dec. 26 on CBS.
Here’s a look at this year’s honorees:
LL Cool J
“Yo, this is amazing.” That was LL Cool J’s reaction to being the first hip-hop artist awarded a Kennedy Center Honor.
“To be able to go from the corner in Queens beatin’ on a garbage can to getting a Kennedy Center Honor with this type of company and to be first is just an amazing feeling. You know, it just adds another level of legitimacy to hip-hop culture,” he said in a telephone interview.
LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith, began his rap career as a teenager. His debut album, “Radio,” was released in 1985 and more albums soon followed. In 1992, he won his first of two Grammy awards for best rap solo performance for “Mama Said Knock You Out.” He earned a second for “Hey Lover” in 1997.
Beyond music, he has branched out to working in television. Since 2015 he has hosted Spike TV’s reality show “Lip Sync Battle.” The show was nominated for an Emmy in 2016 and again in 2017. He also currently stars in the CBS drama “NCIS: Los Angeles,” where he plays special agent Sam Hanna.
Still, the 49-year-old says his “first love is hip-hop.”
“That’s always going to be my first love, but I’m an entertainer,” he said, adding that he likes to “create,” whether it’s music or TV shows, content that “entertains the world.”
His most recent album, “Authentic,” was released in 2013.
“There’s definitely more history to be written. You know, one day I’ll get back in the studio. You never know what can happen,” he said.
Singer Gloria Estefan was in a car on the way to the airport when she learned she’d be honored by the Kennedy Center. Her husband got the news first, she said, and before announcing it told her to prepare herself. “Buckle your seatbelt,” he said, even though she was already strapped in.
The Cuban-American artist has won three Grammy awards and four Latin Grammy awards and sold more than 100 million records worldwide. These days there’s little the 59-year-old hasn’t done. She’s acted, written two children’s books, and she and husband Emilio Estefan own businesses including restaurants and hotels as well as a minority share in the Miami Dolphins. The couple was honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
“I’d be greedy if I wanted anything else in life,” she said in a telephone interview.
Estefan shot to fame as the lead singer of the Miami Sound Machine, a group formed by the man who would become her husband. Her hits include: “Conga,” ”Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” ”Get on Your Feet” and “1-2-3.” A musical based on the couple’s lives and music opened on Broadway in 2015 and closes later this month. Estefan called the show’s closing “bittersweet.” But a national tour of the show begins in the fall, what Estefan called a “new beginning.” The show will also make its international premiere in the Netherlands in October.
What hasn’t she done that she’d like to? “Take an extended vacation,” Estefan joked in an interview before adding that she’d like to write a book about how she got through a 1990 tour bus crash in which her back was broken. And, she said, she’d like perform in a “free Cuba,” one not led by Fidel or Raul Castro.
Estefan, who once hosted a fundraiser for Obama but says she and her husband are not affiliated with a political party, said her personal politics will be on hold in accepting the honor with Trump in the audience. But she said the image of a Cuban immigrant being honored is important when Latino immigrants in particular have “taken a beating in the recent past.”
“I’m happy to be a very clear example of the good things that immigrants have done in this country,” she said.
Lionel Richie could be forgiven for being tired by the time of the Kennedy Center Honors in December. The four-time Grammy winner is in the middle of his “All the Hits” tour and still has more than two dozen scheduled performances in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand before the tour ends in late October. Mariah Carey is joining the singer-songwriter on tour and Richie says “so far she has killed it.”
As for Richie, fans are there to see him perform some of his most popular songs including: “Three Times a Lady,” ”Hello,” ”All Night Long,” ”Dancing on the Ceiling” and “Say You, Say Me,” which won him a Golden Globe award and an Oscar. Then there’s “We Are The World,” which he wrote with Michael Jackson.
Outside of music, Richie is involved in other ventures. He has a homeware line and is an investor in an app that lets people request a doctor come to their home. He’s also producing a movie about entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
Richie, 68, says it’s good to be busy.
“I always say that the word ‘busy’ in show business is the most important word. You want to be busy,” he said in a telephone interview.
The father of three has also said he’s writing a book called “How to Survive Your Children,” but said he’s “still doing research.” His youngest, model Sofia Richie, will need to turn 19 before he has enough experience to finish it, he said.
“I don’t want to put the book out if I didn’t make it,” he said.
Richie said there’s no better word than “honored” to describe how he feels about being given a Kennedy Center Honor: “Lionel Richie just had to stop and go ‘oh my God,'” he said.
“You’re just going to catch a guy who’s going to just sit down and enjoy the show and from time to time kind of restrain myself from crying,” he said.