By Tierney McAfee
December 27, 2017 at 09:36 AM EST

There was a seemingly endless parade of stars at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony on Sunday night, but two big names were notably missing from the event — President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania.

The first couple previously announced their decision not to attend this year’s ceremony — or host the traditional pre-game reception at the White House — saying they hoped their absence would “allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction.”

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That announcement came shortly after two of the five honorees, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade and TV producer Norman Lear, said they planned to skip the ceremony altogether if Trump was involved, in protest over his administration’s proposal to cut funding for the arts.

Trump’s bowing out marked the first time in the event’s 40-year history that a president or first lady hasn’t participated.

And it was a break in tradition that suited several of the honorees just fine.

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“No distractions! This is about the arts,” rapper-actor LL Cool J said, according to The Washington Post. “It doesn’t help for me to get up on a soapbox and be divisive.”

“It’s about the art tonight — it’s about Lionel and Gloria. It’s about Carmen and Norman,” he added of his fellow honorees, Lear, de Lavallade, and musicians Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan.

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Lear, the 95-year-old writer and producer known for creating the bigoted Archie Bunker for 1970s sitcom All in the Family, has been an outspoken critic of Trump, previously telling The Daily Beast that “Archie Bunker was far wiser of heart” than the president and that “Donald Trump is a thorough fool.”

On Sunday, Lear had no regrets about turning down his invitation to visit the White House.

“I didn’t wish to accept whatever the hell the White House had to offer,” he said. “From a White House that doesn’t care for the arts and the humanities. Not just not helping, but cutting, and turning its back totally on the arts and humanities, and that’s the opposite of what tonight’s about.”

It was a sentiment shared by De Lavallade. “I don’t hold grudges against anyone, but I thought, ‘I just can’t,’ ” said the dancer. “Why would I shake hands with someone who doesn’t like you, who wants to take away your livelihood?”

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