“Heck no!” said honoree Mavis Staples, the R&B singer whose music was part of the civil rights movement soundtrack, when asked whether she would have accepted the award if it involved a visit to a Trump White House instead of an Obama one. “No way. It would have been awkward.”
Staples seemed to be the gala’s biggest draw. A stream of well-wishers and selfie-snappers was lined up at her table, where she and tablemate blues singer Bonnie Raitt were holding forth — and gabbing with each other.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t come,” said another previous KenCen honoree, when asked the same question. (This one made us swear we would not divulge their name.) “Not if it was Trump.”
The Kennedy Center has taken pains this year to make the distinction between the occupant of the White House and the Honors, though the two have enjoyed a close relationship, with the president and first lady regularly attending the event and holding a reception for the winners at the White House. “It’s not technically the president that’s bestowing the honor. It’s the Kennedy Center,” the center’s president, Deborah Rutter, told the Associated Press. “I anticipate that we will have a wonderful selection of honorees next year.”
But besides speculating about what the event might be like in a new administration, the main attraction at the late-night party was the same as it is every year: a chance for Official Washington to stay up way too late and mix with real (that is, imported) celebrities.
Newly elected Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) was prowling the room — which was packed with members of Congress, A-list Washington philanthropists and socialites as well as musicians and actors — looking for Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, one of the evening’s honorees. She said she had gotten to be pals with the musician when she was campaigning in 2012 against a congressman named . . . Joe Walsh. Walsh (the guitarist) endorsed her and even performed at a benefit concert. “He’s such a great guy — what an honor,” Duckworth said as she beelined for the musician.
And Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) was working the room, cornering honoree James Taylor for what looked like an intense talk and chatting with Raitt. No idea what went down in those convos, but when we caught up with her, Stabenow wanted to talk only Detroit. She noted that last year’s performance was dominated by a bring-the-house-down number by soul queen Aretha Franklin, and this year’s finale — a raucous cover of “Life in the Fast Lane” — featured another Motor City native, Bob Seger. “When they want a closer, they go to Detroit!” she boasted.