Trumps to skip Kennedy Center arts awards

Veteran television writer and producer Norman Lear was one of two Kennedy Center honorees who declined to take part in a reception at the White House

Donald and Melania Trump will skip festivities for this year's Kennedy Center Honors, one of America's top awards in the arts, to allow the events to go ahead without "political distraction," the White House said Saturday.

Traditionally, the honorees are received at the White House before the event, but Trump has had a fraught relationship with the American art world and this year two of them declined to join in the reception.

"The President and First Lady have decided not to participate in this year's activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction," the White House statement said.

"First Lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year's award recipients for their many accomplishments."

This year's honorees are rapper LL Cool J, Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan, singer Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear, and dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade.

Lear, a 95-year-old World War II veteran whose sitcoms like "The Jeffersons" and "All in the Family" brought social issues into American living rooms in the 1970s and 1980s, said shortly after being named an honoree that he would not attend the White House reception.

"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," Lear said in a statement.

Trump angered many in the art world when he pushed for the complete end of federal support for public broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts in his budget outline in March.

On Thursday, De Lavallade cited "the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in" for declining the invitation to the White House reception.

De Lavallade appeared on Broadway and in films, and was the principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera. She has choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem, among others.

Ritchie -- the pop legend behind hits such as "All Night Long," "Hello" and "Endless Love" -- told NBC's "Today Show" this week that he was going to "play it by ear."

"I must tell you, I'm not really happy as to what's going on right now with the controversies," he said.

The awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center will take place on December 3, and will be the first under Trump.

Kennedy Center Honors marks its 40th anniversary this year.