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Gloria Estefan is about to get the honor of her life

03 August . 2017

BY HOWARD COHEN hcohen@miamiheraldcom AUGUST 03, 2017 11:00 AM Miami is set to represent at Washington’s glittering 40th annual Kennedy Center...

AUGUST 03, 2017 11:00 AM

Miami is set to represent at Washington’s glittering 40th annual Kennedy Center Honors in December when singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan becomes the latest hometown icon to receive the prestigious award and the first Cuban American to earn the distinction.

Estefan’s Kennedy Center Honors recognition, for lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts — be it in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures or television — is only the fourth for a Latina artist. Chita Rivera was the first in 2002, followed by Rita Moreno (2015) and Argentine pianist Martha Argerich (2016). Among men, Spanish opera star Plácido Domingo, in 2000, and Mexican-American rock guitarist Carlos Santana, in 2013, received the honor.

Estefan, 59, is the first of these women, or men, to base her entire career from Miami.

Estefan, the daughter of a Bay of Pigs veteran who served in Vietnam, has won seven Grammys, an Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a National Artistic Achievement Award from the U.S. Congress and, most recently in 2015, President Barack Obama presented Estefan and her husband, Emilio, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

President Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Emilio and Gloria Estefan receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Courtesy: White House

But the Kennedy Center honor, coming at a time when funding for the arts is embattled and immigration reform sparks debate, is special, she said.

“It’s a cultural thing, they look at many different things. So I’m happy to receive this award. It’s important to show our contributions to the U.S. that we so dearly love. And it’s one of the highest honors you can get in this avenue,” Estefan said in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Joining Estefan as a 2017 honoree are dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, hip-hop artist and actor LL Cool J, television writer and producer Norman Lear, and musician-songwriter Lionel Richie.

Last year, Lear called the Estefans to have them update the theme song for his “One Day at a Time” Netflix reboot by adding congas, salsa horns, Cuban jazz licks and Gloria’s vocals to the familiar tune originally written in 1975. “I absolutely adore Norman Lear,” she said.

She has also crossed paths frequently with Richie. In 2010, she wrote Spanish lyrics for the 1985 Richie/Michael Jackson anthem “We Are the World.” Proceeds from the resulting single “Somos el mundo 25 por Haiti” went toward earthquake relief on the island.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts officially announced the five honorees Thursday.

The Dec. 3 Washington gala, with its broadcast set for CBS on Dec. 26, will be a night of other firsts, too: LL Cool J, whose hits include “Going Back to Cali” in 1988 and “Mama Said Knock You Out” in 1990, is the first rapper to receive a Kennedy Center honor.

“To be the first rap artist honored by the Kennedy Center is beyond anything I could have imagined,” LL Cool J said in a statement. “I dedicate this honor to the hip-hop artists who came before me and those who came after me. This simply proves that dreams don’t have deadlines.”