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 TrumpReturn hope to the Middle East by returning to the Iran Deal Government shutdowns tend to increase government spending 'Full Frontal' gives six-bedroom house to group that works with detained immigrants 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 rips Dems as shutdown looms | Congress deadlocked | Flynn associates charged will illegal lobbying The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Five things to know about the Trump inauguration investigation 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 MnuchinTrump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff On The Money: House GOP struggles to get votes for B in wall funds | Fallout from Oval Office clash | Dems say shutdown would affect 800K workers | House passes 7 billion farm bill Conservative leader Meadows will not be White House chief of staff MORE, Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaGeorge H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Ryan casts doubt on 'bizarre' California election results Democratic gains erasing House GOP in California MORE (R-Calif.) snapping a photo for a young couple, Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act Limited Senate access to CIA intelligence is not conspiracy MORE (R-Ky.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerReport accuses US tech giants of impeding Senate's Russia probe Trump risks clash with Congress over Chinese executive The Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington MORE (D-Va.) walking the red carpet, CBS News anchor Jeff Glor, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoGeorge H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Trump, first lady attend special Supreme Court ceremony for Kavanaugh 5 ways Democrats can turn the House win into future success MORE, CNN’s Jake Tapper, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiLiberal groups launch effort to get progressives on key House committees Dems preparing for prolonged shutdown Jim Jordan predicts there will be no government shutdown 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 DeVosDeVos to cancel 0M in student loan debt after court loss A sea change for sexual conduct on campus Job satisfaction down at nearly 60 percent of federal agencies MORE, Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts George H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Democratic senator: US must maintain strategic relationship with Saudis and hold them accountable MORE (D-Md.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators prepare for possibility of Christmas in Washington during a shutdown Dem senator: Trump 'seems more rattled than usual' Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving MORE (D-Del.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCorker dodges on Trump primary question The Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force MORE (R-Ariz.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare Klobuchar: 'Of course we're willing to work with' Republicans to avoid shutdown Klobuchar calls ObamaCare ruling 'absurd' MORE (D-Minn.), International Monetary Fund Chairwoman Christine Lagarde, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossReplacing unpopular steel tariffs with quotas is even worse for US energy Judge refuses to pick sides in Census dispute, schedules trial Ross: I don't know who started 'rumor' about travel warning for China MORE, Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCoal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee The Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight 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 HoyerTrump finds himself isolated in shutdown fight Pelosi gets her swagger on Term limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority MORE (D-Md.).