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 TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ 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 TrumpTrump, Harris, Ocasio-Cortez, Charlie Kirk among Twitter's most-engaged users The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld dies at 85 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 MnuchinTop Chinese official heading to Washington for trade talks The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration White House confirms new trade talks with China MORE, Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaThe Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles Senate throws hundreds of Trump nominees into limbo MORE (R-Calif.) snapping a photo for a young couple, Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Congress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration MORE (R-Ky.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHarris on election security: 'Russia can't hack a piece of paper' Schiff: Evidence of collusion between Trump campaign, Russia 'pretty compelling' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears MORE (D-Va.) walking the red carpet, CBS News anchor Jeff Glor, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress White House announces reduced delegation to travel to Davos amid shutdown MORE, CNN’s Jake Tapper, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump, Dems open drug price talks | FDA warns against infusing young people's blood | Facebook under scrutiny over health data | Harris says Medicare for all isn't socialism Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Steve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote 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 DeVosStudents call on DeVos to offer free tampons, pads in schools to address 'period poverty' DeVos recovering from broken pelvis, hip socket after bicycle accident Student veterans deserve better than the DeVos agenda MORE, Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinBipartisan Senators reintroduce legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia Baseball legend Frank Robinson, first black manager in MLB, dies at 83 Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report MORE (D-Md.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union MORE (D-Del.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise Trump: Bernie Sanders 'missed his time' for White House MORE (D-Minn.), International Monetary Fund Chairwoman Christine Lagarde, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTop Chinese official heading to Washington for trade talks The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration White House confirms new trade talks with China MORE, Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowLand conservation tax incentives should inspire charitable giving, not loopholes Four names emerge for UN position: report Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal 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 HoyerOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Dems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Winners and losers in the border security deal MORE (D-Md.).