What happened at the event


The presence of Donald Trump was not felt at the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday night.

Of course, it's because physically, he was not there.

As announced in August, the president and first lady did not choose to attend the annual celebration of American artists to "allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction." That decision – the first time a president missed the occasion in 23 years, and the only time he did it without sending the First Lady as his substitute: it was made after two of the honorees, the television pioneer Norman Lear and the dancer Carmen de Lavallade, announced plans to boycott the traditional reception prior to the ceremony at the White House to express their opposition to Trump's rhetoric and policies. (The reception was eliminated once the Trumps withdrew from the festivities.)

Even the ceremony, which paid tribute to Lear, Lavallade, Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie and LL Cool J, the first hip-hop artist of history becoming a honoree of the Kennedy Center – it was basically the Voldemort route when it came time to talk about the president, never referring to him by name or even indirectly. While Stephen Colbert had hosted the program for the past three years, this year there was no host. Instead, the former Kennedy Center member, Quincy Jones, was responsible for making the introductory and final observations. Without night comedians to talk about the meaning of the night, the opportunity to comment on the elephant in the room, or rather, about the Republican elephant that was not in the room, was largely eliminated, which could have been design

At the beginning of the program, which will be released in two hours and will be broadcast on December 26 on CBS, Caroline Kennedy spoke about the example of her father, President John F. Kennedy, in ways that could be. interpreted as a discrete comment about the current occupant of the Oval Office. ("Now it's our turn to ask, what can we do for our country?" He said, adding: "Men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the greatness of the nation, but men who question power do an indispensable equal contribution, especially when that interrogation is disinterested, since they determine whether we use power or power uses us. ")

During the tribute to many influential shows of Lear, one that featured Kenya Barris and Anthony Anderson Black-ish ; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creator-star Rachel Bloom; Rita Moreno, who appears in the new version of One Day at a Time ; and All in the Family star Rob Reiner -Dave Chappelle also made a scathing comment about the copy of the Declaration of Independence that Lear bought and showed throughout the country, including during the honors ceremony. "God bless this great land where everything is for sale, including our founding document," said Chappelle. "I'm sure you can get some rubles for that."

Apart from that, once the doors of the Kennedy Center Opera House were closed, all the noise and controversy were also left out. In the presidential box, where the president and the First Lady traditionally sit with the honorees with ribbons and medals, the five saluted artists were the only VIPs in straight-backed chairs. Somehow, even that sent a strong message: for the first time in the history of Honors, at least based on the research of this writer, each honoree except one was a person of color. (In a Lear clip accepting his prize at the State Dinner held the night before, he joked, "I'm very proud that these nominees represent my race.")

"I want to make sure tonight, it's about the arts, "said LL Cool J on the red carpet before the ceremony began. "I do not want to feed any distractions or go to the left, tonight it's about music."

Music was fundamental to what was often an emotional and joyful ceremony. During the tribute to Estefan, which the singer of "Get on Your Feet" observed with a handkerchief wrapped in a hand, Estefan's daughter, Emily Estefan, played her mother's song, "Reach", which led Richie to play LL Cool J for Estefan a fist bump "Way to go, Mom."

At the end of the tour of some of Richie's greatest hits, played by Stevie Wonder, Luke Bryan and Leona Lewis, the crowd in Washington, DC – a group that is always grateful, but not necessarily always, uh, loose, He stood up to dance the closing song, "All Night Long." Richie, Estefan and LL Cool J were also stuck on the monitors, happily uttering the words "Easy."

The tribute to LL Cool J was the most explosive of the night, with a group of break spinning dancers providing the curtain background for Busta Rhymes, dressed in a full LL style red suit, to handle "Mama Said I hit you"; MC Lyte to give a spin to "I'm Bad"; and Darryl McDaniels, also known as Run-DMC DMC, to open fire on "Rock the Bells."

Even the part of Lear of the night – in which the sets of his beloved sitcoms were recreated, one behind the other – people singing and dancing The spectacles of this man were unquestionably influential for their mixture of humor and Social problems. But, damn it, they also had the best songs in history . At one point, Meryl Streep – who honored Lavallade, her dance instructor during her days at Yale Drama – was caught in the audience singing the song The Jeffersons a spontaneous moment that may not end in the broadcast, but he probably still wins an Emmy nomination in some way.

It's hard to imagine that Trump exists comfortably in this environment – my God, the reaction shots during the ceremony would have been something worth contemplating – and as difficult as it imagines everyone having fun in the same way if he had been there. It is also likely that it would have been difficult to challenge the same caliber of talent to participate in the event if the president had answered yes. During a conversation at the interim, Barris said he probably would not have come if Trump had attended. The star of Barris Black-ish Anderson, told Vulture that he really would have felt torn about what to do as he considers Lear a mentor, and is a friend of both LL Cool J and Lionel Richie.

J.J. Abrams, an old friend of Lear who opened his tribute, said during the post-ceremony dinner that he would have followed Lear's lead on how to handle the situation. "I would have done anything for Norman," he said. "What Norman wanted to do, he would have done."

Rachel Bloom, on the other hand, at least considered the idea that attending the Kennedy Center Honors could have had a positive impact on the president.

"On the one hand, it makes sense that I'm not here because I think people would have boycotted it," he said. "On the other hand, this is a night in honor of artists and the freedom of thought and understanding from which other people come in. It is a room full of love and respect, like, what a great influence [that could be] on someone who seems to lack love, generosity and respect for other people. "

Maybe. But at this year's Kennedy Center Honors, everyone seemed happy to enjoy the love, generosity and respect of each other for a few hours, without politically divisive interruptions.

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