Last year, LL Cool J became the first rapper to receive an award at the Kennedy Center Honors. This year, Hamilton will become the first musical to receive an award. The Kennedy Center has occasionally honored groups like the Eagles and creative partnerships like Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey or Fred Ebb and John Kander, but this will be the first time in the ceremony’s 41-year history that an award will go to an actual work of art.
“Our conversations were about how powerful this work has been, what it has done to the conversation, the coverage it has received and how powerfully it has impacted every single individual,” Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter tells The Washington Post. “How can we acknowledge it now, while it’s happening? Part of our current identity is to celebrate greatness that has already been achieved and greatness that is happening now.”
Hamilton composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, music director Alex Lacamoire, and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler will be honored in a December ceremony that also recognizes the lifetime achievements of composer Philip Glass, singer-actresses Cher and Reba McEntire, and jazz musician Wayne Shorter. At 38, 40, 34, and 48, the Hamilton creators will be the youngest to be honored by the Kennedy Center. (LL Cool J and Stevie Wonder, the previous youngest, were both 49.)
Traditionally, the White House hosts a reception prior to the ceremony where the president congratulates each year’s honorees. Last year, Donald Trump decided to skip the whole thing after three honorees threatened to boycott the reception. Given Trump’s history with Hamilton, its inclusion in the honors doesn’t bode well for his attendance this year either.
“The best thing would be if he would come to the awards and meet us and talk to us,” says Philip Glass. “This president ignores the arts, and no one has ignored them as he has. It wasn’t ignored under Kennedy, under Nixon, under the Bushes. This is a break from that, and to me, it’s disappointing … Right here in this group of five, you have the whole picture. No matter what people think of our politics, our reputation for art-making is international and very appreciated.”
“I’m one of the few who stayed in the front trenches, stayed in the struggle to inspire people. Some people may have wanted to give me an award for effort. This award is cutting through all of the politics and all of that,” Wayne Shorter adds. “I’ll stay in the trenches with the artists. I’m not getting all up at arms about somebody from the White House being there.” Next month, the 84-year-old saxophonist is releasing Emanon, his first album in five years. The triple album will be accompanied by a graphic novel penned by Shorter with Monica Sly.
The Kennedy Center Honors will take place in Washington, DC on 12/2. The ceremony is scheduled to air on CBS on 12/26.