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What Are The Kennedy Center Honors? This Award Recognizes Performers

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On Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. ET, the 41st Annual Kennedy Center Honors will air on CBS. If you tune in, you can expect to see stars like Cher and Reba McEntire, among a host of others. But if you've never watched the ceremony before, you might be wondering: what are the Kennedy Center Honors?

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said it best on the organization's website, explaining that every year they recognize "exceptional artists who have made enduring and indelible marks on our culture." Specifically, they honor those in the performing arts (music, theater, dance, opera, film, and TV), though the award isn't based on recent releases or single performances. Instead it takes someone's larger cultural impact into account and acknowledges the influence they've had overall.

After premiering in 1978, the Kennedy Center has commended countless artists for the strides they made in their respective fields. The honorees are usually an unexpected mix that crosses mediums and genres. The one unifying factor is how impressive the scope of their careers has been. As Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said, "This year's slate of honorees represents the pinnacle of our nation's originality and the rich mosaic of diverse perspectives and art forms that has come to define who we are as a people."

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There are four artists being celebrated at the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors: all-around icon Cher, country music star Reba McEntire, composer and pianist Philip Glass, and jazz saxophonist and composer Wayner Shorter. Special acclaim will also be bestowed upon the people behind the musical Hamilton. Writer (and previous star) Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and music director Alex Lacamoire will be honored for being the "trailblazing creators" behind a "transformative work that defies category."

Last year, Gloria Estefan was one of the honorees, but this year she'll be taking on the hosting duties. She announced the news on Instagram, calling it a "great privilege" after "getting the incredible award last year." And because Estefan has been through the experience herself, she knows exactly what the honorees are going through. "Having been there last year, I know how emotional they're going to get," she told CBS News. "I know how beautiful the ceremony is. I know what a great show it's going to be and for me, it's lovely to be hosting. I'm enjoying every minute."

The Kennedy Center Honors are unlike other award shows in that there are no categories or nominees. Instead, they choose the winners ahead of time and spend the entire night showing appreciation for everything they've done. According to Playbill, there will be a multitude of performances and tributes that pay homage to Cher, McEntire, Glass, Shorter, and Hamilton. Kristin Chenowith, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Christopher Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum, Whoopie Goldberg, Adam Lambert, Cyndi Lauper, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Renée Fleming are just a few of the performers you can expect to see tonight.

Art has a huge impact on the lives of the people consuming it, regardless of what form it comes in, and the Kennedy Center Honors recognizes that.

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