In Their Words: The 2017 Kennedy Center Honors Recipients

How does it feel to receive the Kennedy Center’s award for lifetime artistic achievement?

Carmen de Lavallade

“When I made my debut as Salome at the Lester Horton Dance Theater in 1950, I could never have imagined being named one of the Kennedy Center Honorees in 2017. Thanks to my family, my husband Geoffrey Holder and son Leo, and the extraordinary icons of the dance, theater and music world, who gave me the grit and curiosity to continue to be a part of the performing arts no matter what stood in the way. Thank you Kennedy Center Honors for including me to be a part of such a remarkable family of great artists.”

Gloria Estefan

Little did I imagine when my parents brought me as a toddler to the United States from Cuba, in order to be able to raise me in freedom, that I would be receiving one of this nation’s greatest honors. I feel privileged to be included in the galaxy of stars that have received the Kennedy Center Honors and I am grateful to be considered among the many talents in this great country that have been bestowed this exceptional accolade.”

LL COOL J

“My late grandmother passed some wise advice to me: ‘If a task is once begun, never leave it ’til it’s done. Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.’ That adage has guided everything I have ever done in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful because it has led me here. To be the first rap artist honored by the Kennedy Center is beyond anything I could have imagined. I dedicate this honor to the Hip Hop artists who came before me and those who came after me. This simply proves that dreams don’t have deadlines. God is great.”

Norman Lear

“As a young Jewish boy in the 1920s, as an airman flying over Berlin in World War II, as a young father in Los Angeles trying to make ends meet, as a successful writer/producer touring a copy of the Declaration of Independence around the country — in the many lifetimes I’ve lived — I could not have imagined this day. And I am honored that it comes at an especially appropriate time. As a people, we — our values, our institutions — are being tested. It is not, of course, the first time; nor will it be the last. But as President Kennedy once said, on behalf of this Center, ‘I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contributions to the human spirit.’ That is our charge. And that is why I am so grateful to the Kennedy Center for this honor. 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.”

Lionel Richie

“It is such an honor to be named a Kennedy Center Honoree this year. I am incredibly humbled to be included amongst such a prestigious group of individuals, both past and present. To think that a kid from Tuskegee Alabama with a dream could be so fortunate to achieve all of the blessings that have come to me throughout my career. Thank you to my fans, family, friends, and the Kennedy Center for this distinguished honor.”