Rapper LL Cool J is set to become the first hip-hop artist to be celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors, one of America’s top awards in the arts that marks its 40th anniversary this year.
Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan, soul singer Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear, and dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade are the other 2017 honorees, organizers announced Thursday.
The awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center will take place on December 3 and will be the first under President Donald Trump. Traditionally, the honorees are received at the White House before the event.
LL Cool J, whose real name is James Todd Smith, was hailed by Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein for having “taught the world how to rhyme as one of the pioneers of the Hip Hop phenomenon.”
The 49-year-old New Yorker is seen as one of the pioneers of pop rap and was the first rapper to gain 10 consecutive platinum-plus selling albums. He has parlayed his success into an acting career, with a long-running starring role in “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
“To be the first rap artist honored by the @kencen is beyond anything I could have imagined. Dreams don’t have deadlines. God is great,” tweeted the rapper-actor, whose moniker stands for “Ladies Love Cool James.”
Estefan, meanwhile, is the first Cuban-American to receive the award and arguably the most popular crossover artists in Latin music history.
The 68-year-old Richie — known both as a solo artist and for his work with The Commodores — is a pop legend, known for hits such as “All Night Long,” “Hello” and “Endless Love.”
De Lavallade appeared on Broadway and in films, and was the principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera. She has choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem, among others.
Trump angered many in the art world when he pushed for the complete end of federal support for public broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts in his budget outline in March.
Lear, a 95-year-old World War II veteran whose sitcoms like “The Jeffersons” and “All in the Family” brought social issues into American living rooms in the 1970s and 1980s, said he was grateful for the award but would not attend.
“It is more important now than ever that we stand up for artists, for artistic expression, and for the valiant fight that artists fight to reveal the wonder and oneness of the human spirit,” Lear said in a statement.
The ceremony airs on CBS on December 26.