Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, talks with 2017 Kennedy Center Honorees Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan, center, following the State Department dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo)
Washington: The Kennedy Center Honours celebrated a star-studded group of artists and performers Sunday in a gala that took on decidedly political overtones with the presidential box sitting conspicuously empty.
It was one of just a handful of times in 40 years that a sitting US president skipped the event, and seen as the first not caused by a crisis or travel.
Norman Lear, known for his sitcoms including "The Jeffersons" and "All in the Family" that shed light on prejudice and social ills, seized on his moment in Washington to cite "equal opportunity" and "equal justice" as "the promises of this country."
"Deep in our hearts, we still have promises to deliver," said the 95-year-old World War II veteran, who received the lifetime artistic achievement award. "I want to call to attention in this room, with these people."
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania were not attending to avoid "political distraction" after several honorees said they planned or would skip the traditional White House reception preceding the event.
That decision came as the administration sank deep into political turmoil after Trump failed to definitively condemn the role of white supremacists in violent Virginia protests that ended in bloodshed.
But the move infused the usually non-partisan cultural celebration at the Kennedy Center Opera House with a decidedly political flavour.