Excerpts from the profiles of the 2016 Honorees:

Norman Lear


(Marvin Joseph for The Washington Post)

Everything written about Norman Lear anymore leads with his age, which is impressive, but it’s far from the only thing to talk about, so we’ll talk about it last. It’s a Thursday morning in October, and Lear, whose phenomenal streak as a creator and producer of TV sitcoms in the 1970s included “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “One Day at a Time” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” apologizes for dawdling at his breakfast table past 10.

“I was out pretty late,” he says. “1:30 or so.”

First he was off to Burbank, where, as part of a “modern masters” lecture series, he sat for a long Q&A with an audience of young film and TV writers. The event was recorded for his podcast, “All of the Above.” (Because of course there’s a Norman Lear podcast, and no subject is off-limits.)

After that, while the rest of the city slept, Lear stopped at a comedy club on Sunset Boulevard in hopes of finding Dave Chappelle, from whom he needed to ask a favor. He watched three other acts, waiting for Chappelle to go on (“All very funny,” he says) and then went backstage to talk to the comedian. (About what? “We’ll see,” Lear says.)

Read the full story: Norman Lear put his foot down — and Trump’s White House flinched by Hank Stuever

LL Cool J


(Marvin Joseph for The Washington Post)

After spending the first half of his workday pretending to be an undercover agent on the hit CBS procedural “NCIS: Los Angeles,” LL Cool J is relaxing in his trailer at Paramount Studios, answering questions about what’s real.

That radio he couldn’t live without? Real. His need for love? Still real. Lisa, Angela, Pamela, Renee? Real, real, real and real — if he closes his eyes, he can see their faces. And yes, back in 1990, when his critics were encouraging the 22-year-old rap pioneer to consider an early retirement, Grandma Cool J really-truly did urge young LL to knock those fools unconscious.

But as a rapper, what interests LL most is the unreal. He thinks of rapping as an imaginative opportunity — flexing your make-believe muscles allows you to learn the breadth of your humanity, the height of your hopes and the depth of your desire. Imagination is what allowed LL to channel his libido into an ode to breakfast on “Milky Cereal.” It gave him permission to rhyme “cornea” with “hornier” in the first verse of “Back Seat.” It’s how he came up with the most mysterious sex metaphor in rap history and then named the entire song after it: “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings.” Keeping it real can be a reflex for most rappers, but it’s LL Cool J’s imagination that made his music feel stranger, sexier, funnier, more fun, more alive.

Read the full story: As a rap phenom, LL Cool J needed love. As a rap legend, he’s finally getting it. by Chris Richards

Gloria Estefan


(Omar Cruz)

Her father was working on a farm in Cuba somewhere. That was the story that Big Gloria, a towering 4-foot-11 — she fibbed about that, too — told her daughter.

Glorita knew better. Her father, a cop who had served in Cuban first lady Marta Batista’s motorcade and later joined a CIA-backed brigade of island exiles, was in prison, captured by Cuban forces after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

“My mother was trying to protect me,” says singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, 60, a member of this year’s class of Kennedy Center Honors recipients. We’re talking at her sumptuous Miami island estate, swelling with Picassos and Boteros and a kennel’s worth of rescue dogs, the Intercoastal Waterway lapping at its edge. “But I knew what was going on.”

Her family, like many Cubans, believed that their sojourn in Miami would be fleeting. Any day they would all be reunited in Havana after Fidel Castro’s revolution crumbled.

Read the full story: Gloria Estefan left Cuba as a young child, but the island defines her, and her music by Karen Heller

Lionel Richie

(Marvin Joseph for The Washington Post)

The tour is called “All the Hits,” but Lionel Richie’s lying.

Six number ones. Twelve top 10s. A selection of “Fancy Dancer,” which peaked at 39.

But all the hits?

He would need to pull a Springsteen to have enough time to punch every one out. For now, the nearly 10,000 fans packed into Seattle’s KeyArena won’t hear “Still,” “Oh No,” “Ballerina Girl” or “Love Will Conquer All.”

They scream as Richie, trim and in black jeans, sits behind the piano to launch into his disco-era antidote, “Easy.” So what if he’s three months past his 68th birthday. The voice remains undiminished, and his surgically repaired knee, which delayed the start of this tour, looks game-ready as he glides along to “All Night Long.”

It is a huge arena, but the singer cozies up with his between-song banter, reminding the audience how long “we’ve” been together, (“when you fell in love, I fell in love”) and poking fun at the seductive power of his pop balladry.

Read the full story: Lionel Richie can’t slow down, and we’re all the richer for it by Geoff Edgers

Carmen de Lavallade

(Marvin Joseph for The Washington Post)

“You gotta sliiide into it,” says Carmen de Lavallade, who, at 86, has no trouble showing three young ballerinas how to swish a hip with ease. 

“Look: It’s a jazz hip. Don’t make a move out of it.” The woman who seduced Paris in the 1960s with Josephine Baker rolls her pelvis. “Just put it out there.”

De Lavallade, as usual, is the most arresting woman in the room. She is tall and slim, with a tranquil quality, from her warm, dark eyes and velvet skin to the fluid grace of her walk. Even the way she’s dressed, in shades of aqua, suggests serenity: T-shirt, lounge pants, a string of prayer beads. A ponytail peeks out from her headscarf. 

It’s August, and De Lavallade is leading a rehearsal at the Richmond Ballet, where she has spent the afternoon getting the ballerinas to look less like ballerinas, to loosen up and lag the beat and ride it just a little. They’re learning “Portrait of Billie,” a 15-minute movement study of jazz legend Billie Holiday that choreographer John Butler, a former Martha Graham dancer, created for de Lavallade.  

Read the full story: Carmen De Lavallade is 86 and still the best dancer in the room by Sarah Kaufman