Actress Mindy Kaling and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, singers Gladys Knight and Bruce Springsteen, and designer Vera Wang were among those honored at the White House for the 2021 National Humanities Medals and the National Medal of Arts ceremony. The ceremony marks the first time President Joe Biden has presented awards at the White House since taking office. According to the White House, the awards ceremony was among a backlog of official events postponed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The National Medal of the Arts is the highest American award given to artists, art patrons and groups that have advanced arts in the United States. Biden honored 12 artists and groups, with other recipients including “Feliz Navidad” songwriter and singer Jose Feliciano, philanthropist Fred Eychaner, and cultural grant maker Joan Shigekawa, as well as artists Judith Francisca Baca and Antonio Martorell-Cardona. The Billie Holiday Theatre and the International Association of Blacks in Dance received the medal as institutions.
Biden also awarded the National Humanities Medal to 11 recipients, with the list of recipients including a number of acclaimed writers such as Amy Tan (author of “The Joy Luck Club”), Richard Blanco, who delivered a poem at Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration, memoirist Tara Westover, novelist Colson Whitehead, and Ann Patchett, a finalist in the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Author Walter Isaacson, who served as the chair and CEO of CNN from 2001-2003, received the medal as well, along with Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the first female African American president of Spelman College, historian Earl Lewis, Native American academic Henrietta Mann and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson. The call-in public radio program Native America Calling also received the award.
Biden said during the ceremony in the East Room: “We’re a nation, a great nation, in large part because of the power of the arts and humanities. That’s stamped into the DNA of America. Today … (we) continue the legacy of awarding two of our nation’s highest honors to 23 extraordinary Americans.”
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