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Kennedy Center marks 50 years of hip-hop with Queen Latifah among honorees

A collage showing Renée Fleming, Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal, Barry Gibb and Dionne Warwick
Kennedy Center honorees Renée Fleming, Queen Latifah, Billy Crystal, Barry Gibb and Dionne Warwick will be recognized for their artistic achievements at a Dec. 3 gala in Washington, D.C.
(Los Angeles Times; Associated Press; Getty Images)
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A quartet of famed musicians — including a trailblazing rapper, an opera performer, a “Stayin’ Alive” crooner and a singer of iconic love songs (turned beloved Twitter queen) — and a legendary comedian are among this year’s Kennedy Center honorees.

The 46th class announced Wednesday includes hip-hop star and actor Queen Latifah, the last surviving member of the BeeGees Barry Gibb, hitmaker Dionne Warwick, “America’s soprano” Renée Fleming and actor and comedian Billy Crystal, all of whom are being recognized by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for their artistic influences on American culture and lifetime achievements.

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The group will be inducted Dec. 3 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. with a traditional gala celebration, which will be hosted for the third time by global superstar and 2017 honoree Gloria Estefan. The event, which will air on CBS and stream on Paramount+, will also recognize five decades of hip-hop.

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“This year we pay special tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip hop, a uniquely American culture whose constant evolution is one of enduring relevance and impact, reflecting our society as it has grown into an international phenomenon,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in a press statement. “Hip hop has been an important, thriving art form here at the Center for a number of years; what a privilege it is to bestow an Honors to the First Lady of Hip Hop who has inspired us along the way.”

“Queen Latifah shaped and innovated the art form in its earliest days, representing [B]lack women everywhere and using the idiom to become a powerful voice for change,” added Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein.

“The Equalizer” star already made U.S. history earlier this year as the first female rapper with a recording in the U.S. National Recording Registry, thanks to her 1989 album “All Hail the Queen” that includes the feminist anthem “Ladies First.”

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Rutter called this year’s inductees “an extraordinary mix of individuals who have redefined their art forms and demonstrated remarkable tenacity and authenticity in becoming an original.”

“Each of them has explored new terrain, stretched artistic boundaries, and most importantly, committed to sharing their gifts with the world,” Rutter said.

The center’s Special Honors Advisory Committee, which includes past recipients Estefan, Julie Andrews, Herbie Hancock, Judith Jamison, Lionel Richie and John Williams, evaluated and helped choose this year’s class.

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Last year, the Kennedy Center honored Oscar winner and philanthropist George Clooney, the “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight, the musicians of U2, composer-conductor Tania León and contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant in a gala attended by President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

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