Despite the news earlier in the day that President Barack Obama would be delayed in attending this year’s celebration of the arts to deliver a national address on terrorism, the mood on the red carpet before Sunday’s 38th annual Kennedy Center Honors was anything but melancholy.

The parade of glitterati, including VIP guests, presenters and the honorees themselves started — as it always does — with “Wonder Woman” actress and Potomac resident Lynda Carter. Carter’s impressive attendance record (somewhere between 18 and 25, she figures) and punctual arrivals make her the annual event’s human starting bell. She’s radiant in a black sequin and taffeta Oscar de la Renta gown, and optimistic about the show, which for the first time in 37 years has new producers.

“I’m expecting something brilliant,” Carter says, before adding, “I’m kinda nervous for them because there was such a great legacy.”

Actress Rosie Perez arrives before the cameras in a celebratory mood. She’s thrilled, and a bit teary-eyed, about triple-threat Rita Moreno‘s selection for the Honors, which has been criticized for not featuring Latino artists. “We need to be recognized and it’s about time,” Perez says. “Now that it’s here, it’s a night to rejoice.”

Perez continues, “Rita Moreno she broke the mold. She broke the stereotype. She said enough is enough and she demanded better and that was inspiring.”

Here Perez closes her eyes and pauses, clearly holding back some tears. “I get emotional because some people do not know how hard it is for people of color.” Before disappearing back stage though Perez emphasizes that tonight is a celebration.

In addition to Moreno, honorees included actress Cicely Tyson, singer-songwriter Carole King, conductor Seiji Ozawa, and “Star Wars” creator George Lucas.

King’s the first honoree to greet the press. (If their famous faces don’t give them away, you can always spot them by the special rainbow-striped bling around their necks — those are the medals handed out earlier by the president himself.) “This is very special,” the “Tapestry” crooner says. “It was particularly meaningful to me to see the president took the time to spend time with the five of us considering all he has going on today.”

When asked how the notoriously private artist would describe the flurry of press surrounding the Honors, King answers “Hectic.”

But not all the stars are feeling so chatty: Director Steven Spielberg was seen but not heard from, and wait — was that singer Miranda Lambert in a pale-blue strapless number, strolling by? And we didn’t even get to ask her about her recent breakup with fellow country star Blake Shelton.

Lucas arrives in an understated black tux with his wife, businesswoman Mellody Hobson, who looked Hollywood glam. The filmmaker is just excited to be picked for the honor, which apparently still means something to a guy whose trophy shelf is already groaning. The KenCen Honors are “national,” he explains, unlike certain “business-oriented awards” that shall remain nameless (rhymes with Schmoscars, perhaps?).

Moreno sails in a bit more reflective. She laughs when we tell her that Perez almost cried (“She was crying last night!”) but was keenly aware of the significance of being just the fifth Latino to be recognized. “It’s very, very difficult to make people forget their views and their images of others,” she says. “It’s like glue. It sticks. And in that sense racism is very difficult to get rid of.”

The EGOT has just the perfect spot picked out for her award. It’ll go in the living room along with her Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony — and her grandson’s plastic soccer trophy.

Tyson, looking decades younger than her 90 years with an edgy bob and a gold-sequinned dress, follows Moreno and picks up on the actress’s thread, underscoring how, as a black actress, she carefully chose roles that would make an impact. But after seven decades in the business, she says, her work is done. “I don’t have another thing to prove,” says Tyson. “And now I can just be an actress. And do anything.”

Stars such as Perez, Gina Rodriguez, Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, all in attendance, are perhaps themselves examples of Tyson and Moreno’s hard work paying off.

The parade of A-listers dwindles, but not before a moment to pay R-E-S-P-E-C-T: it’s the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, there to perform for King, who co-wrote one of Franklin’s greatest hits. “‘Natural Woman’ has stood for fifty years now,” she says. “It’s a classic.”

And the biggest revelation from the evening? Even the pros get nervous. Franklin cops to feeling the pressure of singing for King, who producer Clive Davis said trembled with excitement the night before when she learned Franklin would be in on the tribute.

“I have a few butterflies,” she says, “But it goes away.”

More Kennedy Center Honors coverage:

The president attended a White House reception for Honorees Carole King, George Lucas, Seiji Ozawa, Cicely Tyson and Rita Moreno.