Donald and Melania Trump break tradition, pass on Kennedy Center honours

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In a break with tradition, President Donald Trump and the first lady have decided not to participate in events honouring recipients of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors arts awards to “allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” the White House announced Saturday.

The Kennedy Center said it respected Trump’s decision and that the show will go on.

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Past presidents and first ladies have hosted a White House reception in the hours before the Kennedy Center gala, which they would then watch from seats high above the stage.

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The decision came a day after the entire membership of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned to protest Trump’s comments about last weekend’s demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president blamed “many sides” for the violence that left an anti-racism activist dead.

Trump has also had a long and contentious relationship with the arts world and some of the Kennedy Center honorees already had said they would not attend the White House reception hosted by him in December.

One of the honorees, television writer and producer Norman Lear, also had questioned whether Trump would want to attend the gala, “given his indifference or worse regarding the arts and humanities.”

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On Thursday, dancer Carmen de Lavallade said in a statement on her website that she was honoured to receive the award, but would not join Trump at the White House.

“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” she said.

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The other honorees are hip-hop artist LL Cool J and singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honour people who have influenced American culture through the arts.

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The White House said Trump and first lady Melania Trump “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said in a joint statement that they respect Trump’s decision.

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“In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the administration has graciously signalled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees. We are grateful for this gesture” they said.

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The honorees will be celebrated at a Kennedy Center gala on Dec. 3, featuring performances and tributes from top entertainers. A State Department reception and awards dinner on Dec. 2 will also be held as planned.

Rubenstein and Rutter said all five honorees were expected to attend both events.