President Joe Biden doled out medals – and some jokes – to the delayed recipients of the 2021 National Humanities Medal and National Medal of Arts.
The White House hosted a livestreamed East Room ceremony Tuesday for the recipients, who included Mindy Kaling, Gladys Knight, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bruce Springsteen and fashion designer Vera Wang.
The honorees received their awards about two years late due to a backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
First lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also attended the ceremony, which Biden opened with a speech filled with quips about the honorees. The president greeted Louis-Dreyfus as his “friend,” and asked the “Veep” star, in which she plays a politician in the White House, whether she “liked being president or VP better” on the show.
Biden told Knight she’s “one of the best things to ever happen to music” and told Springsteen, “Some people are just born to run, man,” a reference to the singer’s 1975 hit.
The recipients of the National Medals of Arts – the highest honor from the United States government for advancing the country’s arts – include actors, comedians and singers. Other recipients were artist-activist Judith Francisca Baca, philanthropist Fred Eychaner, Puerto Rican musician José Feliciano, Puerto Rican painter Antonio Martorell-Cardona and film producer Joan Shigekawa.
The Billie Holiday Theatre and The International Association of Blacks in Dance also received medals.
The National Humanities Medal honors those who have improved Americans’ understanding and engagement with history, literature, philosophy and more humanities subjects. The 2021 recipients are poet Richard Blanco, anthropologist Johnnetta Betsch Cole, author Walter Isaacson, social historian Earl Lewis, Native American studies academic Henrietta Mann, novelist Ann Patchett, activist Bryan Stevenson, novelist Amy Tan, memoirist Tara Westover and novelist Colson Whitehead, as well as the organization Native America Calling.
Elton John blown away playing concert on White House lawn: ‘This is probably the icing on the cake’
In September 2022, Biden awarded British singer Elton John the National Humanities Medal for his contributions to music and fighting AIDS, a disease caused by HIV that attacks the body’s immune system.
John stopped at the South Lawn for a show called “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” a reference to a poem by Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. At the end of the show, Biden presented John with the medal.
The musician admitted to feeling blown away by the evening and honor, saying, “I will treasure this so much.”