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 TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative 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 TrumpHere are the US allies that have been caught in Trump's crosshairs The Hill's 12:30 Report: Stocks sink as Trump fights with Fed, China El Paso, Dayton hospitals deny Trump claim of doctors leaving OR to meet him 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.

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