George H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors
© Kennedy Center Honors 2018/Scott Suchman

There was one commander in chief on the minds of the high-profile performers recognized at the 41st annual Kennedy Center Honors Sunday — and it wasn’t President TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE.

Former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday at 94, played a prominent role as some of the entertainment world’s most famous faces — including Cher, Reba McEntire and Lin-Manuel Miranda — were lauded in Washington.

Gloria Estefan, a 2017 Kennedy Center Honors recipient and host of this year’s awards gala, recalled meeting with Bush at the White House in 1990 after performing a concert just outside the nation’s capital.

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She told ITK on the red carpet ahead of the event that she critically injured her back in a tour bus accident the next day.

“[Bush] called me at the hospital that night,” Estefan said, in a story she also recounted from the Honors stage as she kicked off the awards ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. “They didn’t believe it was the president, and he got on the phone and I was beside myself and he gave me words of comfort,” Estefan, 61, said.

“Fancy” singer McEntire praised the 41st president, remembering the time that Bush and wife Barbara Bush, who died in April, invited her over for lunch.

“He said, ‘I just got myself a new set of hearing aids,’ ” McEntire told ITK. “And I said, ‘Oh, how do you like them?’ And he said, ‘What’d you say?’ ”

“He was a character,” McEntire, 63, continued. “I’m going to miss him, but I know he and Barbara are having time up there in heaven.”

This year’s honorees also included “Hamilton” co-creators Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire, along with composer Philip Glass and jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

But in a city synonymous with politics — where Trump often dominates the conversation — the night was completely devoid of even a single mention of the president from the Kennedy Center stage.

Trump bucked tradition for the second year in a row and opted to skip the annual Honors ceremony, traditionally attended by the sitting president. Last year, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr Trump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE decided not to participate in the festivities to “allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction.”

More than one of this year’s recipients have been critical of Trump. “Believe” singer Cher once slammed Trump as a “f--king traitor” and said she wished he would “fall off the face of the Earth.”

“Hamilton’s” Miranda has also criticized the Trump administration’s response in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria last year. After Trump attacked Puerto Rican officials, Miranda replied that the president was “going straight to hell.”

Asked what Alexander Hamilton might make of the current political climate and president, Miranda quipped to ITK, “He would go 'what are all these lights? What is happening? How are these cars running without horses?' ”

But McEntire expressed disappointment about Trump’s absence.

“I know he wanted to be here, and I wish he was because that just shows more support for the arts,” the country music star said in an interview with ITK. “I gotta say, it’s bad that politics gets in the way of having a fun time." 

Among the surprise performers tapped to celebrate the winners of the prestigious arts award: Kelly Clarkson, country duo Brooks & Dunn, Lady Antebellum and Kristin Chenoweth all took to the stage in an ode to McEntire, opera singer Renée Fleming and Paul Simon appeared for Shorter and Glass, some members of the original cast of “Hamilton” reunited to honor Miranda and the Broadway musical’s creative team, and Whoopi Goldberg, Little Big Town, Adam Lambert and Cyndi Lauper applauded Cher.

Also eyed at the Honors — which will air on CBS on Dec. 26: Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinLouise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg Mnuchin: US 'focused' on reaching trade deal with UK by end of year Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  MORE, Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaDuncan Hunter to plead guilty to campaign finance violations Why the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy Elijah Cummings, native son of Baltimore, gets emotional send-off from Democratic luminaries MORE (R-Calif.) snapping a photo for a young couple, Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Marsha Blackburn shares what book she's reading during Trump Senate trial Sekulow indicates Trump should not attend impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill MORE (D-Va.) walking the red carpet, CBS News anchor Jeff Glor, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash Trump administration unveils latest guidelines for autonomous vehicle makers MORE, CNN’s Jake Tapper, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClinton says Zuckerberg has 'authoritarian' views on misinformation Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (D-Calif.) blowing a kiss to David Rubenstein after he acknowledged her onstage, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts standing with the rest of the audience and clapping along to Lauper’s performance of “If I Could Turn Back Time,” Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier and his wife Amy Baier, Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosAmerican Federation of Teachers sues DeVos over repeal of for-profit regulations Pressley says she 'would welcome the opportunity' to educate DeVos after abortion, slavery comparison DeVos compares pro-choice to being pro-slavery MORE, Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum New Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight Pressure building on Pelosi over articles of impeachment MORE (D-Md.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Bezos phone breach escalates fears over Saudi hacking MORE (D-Del.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Flake: Republicans don't speak out against Trump 'because they want to keep their jobs' GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Moore defends Sanders's reputation: 'We don't want the fake, and the phony and the fraudulent' MORE (D-Minn.), International Monetary Fund Chairwoman Christine Lagarde, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossDesperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Trump scheduled to attend Davos amid impeachment trial Let's remember the real gifts the president has given America MORE, Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate fails to get deal to speed up fight over impeachment rules The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial John Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event MORE (D-Mich.) chatting up actress Amanda Seyfried, Mark Ein, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), lobbyist Heather Podesta, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and House Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules House revives agenda after impeachment storm House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate MORE (D-Md.).