12/02/2018 11:27 pm ET

Gloria Estefan Opens Kennedy Center Honors With Tribute To George H.W. Bush

The host noted that Bush “graciously attended this event many times during his administration," indirectly alluding to President Donald Trump's absence.

WASHINGTON ― Singer Gloria Estefan opened Sunday’s taping of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors by acknowledging the death of former President George H.W. Bush, noting his participation in the annual Washington tradition and sharing her “many beautiful memories” of him. 

Estefan, the host of the show and a 2017 honoree, recalled when the then-president, who died late Friday at the age of 94, invited her family to the White House after one of her performances in the Washington area.

To her surprise, Bush entertained Estefan’s then-8-year-old son for 45 minutes, talking to him about everything from “the inner workings of the White House” to his family.

President George H.W. Bush with singer Gloria Estefan at the White House in 1990.
President George H.W. Bush with singer Gloria Estefan at the White House in 1990.

She said Bush also called her personally following her severe accident in March 1990, when she fractured her spine after her tour bus crashed during a snowstorm. They continued to stay in touch over the years.

“He had to call our office first because [the hospital] wouldn’t believe the president was calling,” she said to laughter. “And he gave me words of comfort and strength and solace.”

Though Estefan ― and the night’s honorees and performers ― did not mention President Donald Trump by name, his absence was apparent.

In her tribute, Estefan noted Bush “graciously attended this event many times during his administration, laughing, applauding, singing along, and even shedding a tear from right up there in that presidential box.” 

This was the second year in a row that Trump and first lady Melania Trump declined to attend the ceremony, which honors artists who have contributed to American pop culture. 

The Kennedy Center Honors will air on CBS on Dec. 26 at 8 p.m EST.  This year’s honorees include Cher, Philip Glass, Reba McEntire, Wayne Shorter and the co-creators of “Hamilton.”