by ASHRAF KHALIL, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — This year's Kennedy Center Honors will recognize some of the best artists and performers in the country, while skipping the political drama that loomed over it earlier this year.
Television producer Norman Lear is a longtime political activist who threatened to boycott over his opposition to President Donald Trump. But a showdown was avoided when Trump announced in August that he and first lady Melania Trump would not attend.
Rapper and actor LL Cool J and Lear are among the honorees Sunday night for this year's Kennedy Center event.
The 40th annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony will also pay tribute to dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade and musicians Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan. In addition to the Sunday ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, this year's recipients were honored Saturday at a gala State Department dinner.
In the past, most U.S. presidents have attended the Kennedy Center ceremony, but it's not unprecedented for a sitting president to skip it. Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all missed ceremonies during their terms in office, but in all previous cases the first lady attended.
Kennedy Center officials didn't hide their relief when Trump announced he wouldn't attend. Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter and Chairman David M. Rubenstein released a statement saying they were "grateful" to the Trumps for avoiding a conflict that would overshadow the ceremony.
"In choosing not to participate in this year's honor's activities, the administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees," the statement said.