Kennedy Center 2018 Honorees Include Cher and ‘Hamilton.’ Will Trump Attend?

Reba McEntire, Cher, Philip Glass and Wayne Shorter will receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, the annual Washington distinction for artists who have made extraordinary contributions to culture.

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Sopan Deb
, New York Times

Reba McEntire, Cher, Philip Glass and Wayne Shorter will receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, the annual Washington distinction for artists who have made extraordinary contributions to culture.

And in a first for the 41-year history of the awards, which have always gone to individuals, the Broadway musical “Hamilton” will receive a special honor.

“I believe that this is a work that has transformed how we think about using art to talk about who we are as a society,” Deborah F. Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said in an interview.

Though typically a nonpartisan event, and one of the highlights of the Washington social calendar, the Kennedy Center Honors presentation has not escaped the politicization of entertainment since the 2016 election. Last year, with a couple of the honorees, including television producer Norman Lear, expressing discomfort with the president, Donald Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, withdrew from attending, “to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” marking just the fourth time a president missed the event.

It is still unclear if the Trumps will attend this year; the White House referred questions to Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, who said it was too early to say. At least two of the honorees have criticized Donald Trump, as has Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton.”

A representative for Cher, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has compared the president to Hitler, did not return a request for comment. But in a statement through the Kennedy Center, she said, “When I was very young, I saw ‘Dumbo’ and ‘Cinderella’ and knew then what I wanted to be and the path my life would take and here I am! I am very grateful to the Kennedy Center.”

Her half-century-long singing and acting career includes an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy, and she is once again at the forefront of pop culture consciousness. She is a star in the just-released movie sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” and a Broadway-bound musical based on her life is coming this fall.

Glass, a world-renowned composer and pioneer of minimalist music, has referred to Trump as an idiot. But he did not indicate that he would skip the awards if the president showed up.

“Whether he’s there or not, who cares?” he said in an interview. “The show will go on.”

McEntire, a country music savant with a sizable collection of No. 1 hits and a lengthy career on television, said “Heck yes,” when asked whether she would go either way, in line with her past position of keeping politics and art separate. She has appeared at the Kennedy Center Honors three times, to honor Loretta Lynn (2003), Dolly Parton (2006) and Lily Tomlin (2014).

“I will be there with bells on,” McEntire said. “I have been looking forward to this so much.”

Shorter, a 10-time Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist, who expressed surprise that he was picked for the honor, said he would attend either way. He has collaborated with several top musicians, including Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana.

“I had no idea that they would reach that far away from the popular, well-known-artist box,” said Shorter, who performed at the 2013 Honors to celebrate Hancock.

As for “Hamilton,” the hit musical that Trump once called “overrated” and whose cast he has publicly sparred with, Rutter said the award was not intended as a political statement.

But the rationale for the honor, as well as its unusual nature, could be seen as a message.

“When you have people of all backgrounds and races, age, socioeconomic differences and they all are moved by this work — this is a work of power and importance,” Rutter said. “And I’m disappointed that Mr. Trump may not like it. But in fact, this is not a rebuke. This is about celebrating a powerful work of art, and I will always stand by the power of the arts.”

Miranda’s representative did not say whether he or the rest of the creative team would attend if Trump is there, but did provide a statement on their behalf.

“The Kennedy Center Honors is the highest achievement an artist can receive. For the Board to break with its custom of honoring an individual and choosing instead to bestow this recognition on a single piece of work is humbling beyond our wildest expectations for our show,” Miranda, Thomas Kail (director), AndyBlankenbuehler (choreographer) and Alex Lacamoire (musical director) said in the statement.

The ceremony, which is televised, is scheduled for Dec. 2, when Miranda will most likely be rehearsing for another stint in “Hamilton.” Miranda is reprising his role as Alexander Hamilton for a three-week run in Puerto Rico in January. He has been an ardent critic of Trump, saying last year that the president was going “straight to hell.”

Trump set his sights on “Hamilton” shortly after he won the election, when Mike Pence, then vice president-elect, attended a performance of the show. Near the end of the musical, Brandon Victor Dixon, who was playing Vice President Aaron Burr, addressed Pence directly as he was leaving, saying: “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.”

“We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us,” he continued.

Trump responded angrily on Twitter, saying Pence had been “harassed” by the Hamilton cast, and that the actors were “very rude.”

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