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LI’s LL Cool J among Kennedy Center honorees; Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan also on 2017 list

LL Cool J performs at Austin City

LL Cool J performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2016 at Zilker Park on Oct. 1, 2016 in Austin, Texas. Credit: Getty Images for Samsung / Rick Kern

Bay Shore native LL Cool J, Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan, TV writer-producer Norman Lear, and actress-dancer Carmen de Lavallade will receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, the nation’s highest award for performers.

LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith, is best known for his music career, including hip-hop classics like “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “Around the Way Girl,” as well as being an actor and TV host. He splits his time between his homes in Manhasset and Los Angeles, where he stars in the CBS series “NCIS: Los Angeles.” He is the first hip-hop artist to receive a Kennedy Center Honor.

“To be able to go from the corner in Queens beatin’ on a garbage can to getting a Kennedy Center Honor with this type of company and to be first is just an amazing feeling. You know, it just adds another level of legitimacy to hip-hop culture,” LL Cool J told The Associated Press Thursday in a telephone interview.

Since 2015 he has hosted Spike TV’s reality show “Lip Sync Battle.” The show was nominated for an Emmy in 2016 and again in 2017.

Still, the 49-year-old LL Cool J says his “first love is hip-hop.”

“That’s always going to be my first love, but I’m an entertainer,” he told the AP, adding that he likes to “create,” whether it’s music or TV shows, content that “entertains the world.”

His most recent album, “Authentic,” was released in 2013.

“There’s definitely more history to be written. You know, one day I’ll get back in the studio. You never know what can happen,” he said.

The Kennedy Center Honors will celebrate its 40th anniversary when it salutes this year’s recipients on Dec. 3 on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage. An edited version of the ceremony will air on Dec. 26 on CBS.

“The Kennedy Center Honors spotlights the extraordinary careers of five artists whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America,” Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a statement. “Carmen de Lavallade is a national treasure whose elegance and talent as a dancer led to a career touching many art forms; international superstar Gloria Estefan has influenced American music through her infectious Miami sound; landmark hip-hop artist LL Cool J taught the world how to rhyme as one of the pioneers of the hip-hop phenomenon; Norman Lear spoke to the human condition and sparked poignant cultural conversations with some of the most epochal TV sitcoms of the 20th century; and Lionel Richie’s irresistibly recognizable melodies capture the heart and transcend generations.”

Richie, both with The Commodores and as a solo artist, has topped the pop and R&B charts with hits ranging from ballads including “Hello” and “Endless Love” to funk classics including “Brick House.” Estefan, with the Miami Sound Machine and as a solo artist, brought Latin music to the American mainstream with “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” Lear created a string of groundbreaking, successful American sitcoms, including “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.” And de Lavallade has appeared in movies including “Carmen Jones,” as well as numerous ballets written just for her, making her Broadway debut in Truman Capote’s “House of Flowers.”

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