WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden welcomed a group of influential singers, writers, artists and humanitarians to the White House on Tuesday to present them with medals, then he himself plugged the veil with a joke about seeking re-election.
Bruce Springsteen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling and Gladys Knight were among the 22 people and organizations honored. When author Colson Whitehead’s award was announced, Biden noted that the author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys had won back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes.
The president, who is expected to announce his re-election this spring, quickly picked up on it.
“A pretty good man,” he told Whitehead. “It’s like I’m looking for myself back to back,” caused laughter in the audience.
It was a pleasant event in the East Room as the laureates stepped forward to receive their awards one by one. Louis-Dreyfus, who sent Biden’s resume while she was filming Veep, jokingly buckled under the weight when the president hung a medal for the arts around her neck. “Wow!” – she exclaimed.
Springsteen, with his philistine persona, looked out of place in a black suit. He was praised for his “outstanding contribution to the American songbook and for being the ‘boss'”. Poet and writer Richard Blanco stunned in a turquoise tuxedo.
Knight, “empress of the soul,” hugged the president tightly as he placed the medal around her neck. Medal-winning Native America Calling podcast and radio show winner Jacqueline Sally beamed with pride. So does social historian Earl Lewis, who the president says chronicles African American history and “examines how diversity strengthens our nation.”
Biden joked that he opens his closet and finds one nominee, designer Vera Wang, inside (her clothes, anyway), and then says, “Your dresses always look beautiful on my wife.”
The medals are the first batch of Biden’s arts and humanities awards and have been delayed due to the pandemic. The president surprised Sir Elton John with the National Humanities Medal during a music event at the White House last September. He told the audience how important their work is to keeping American culture alive and reminding people of our history, even moments we wish we could forget. The laureates’ work includes dance, art, design, history, as well as music, writing, and philanthropy.
“You really make the country a better place, you make it a better place,” Biden told the crowd before they left for the White House reception.
The recipients did not perform or speak to the crowd after receiving their awards. But the US Marine Corps Band, which often plays at East Room ceremonies, played orchestral numbers for Springsteen’s hits “Born to Run” and “Born in the USA.”
2021 National Medal of Arts recipients:
– Judith Francisca Baca, artist.
– Fred Eichaner, businessman and philanthropist.
– José Feliciano, singer.
– Mindy Kaling, actress.
– Gladys Knight, singer.
– Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actress.
– Antonio Martorell-Cardona, artist.
– Joan Shigekawa, film producer.
– Bruce Springsteen.
– Vera Wang, fashion designer.
– Billie Holiday Theatre.
– International Association of Blacks in Dance.
2021 National Humanities Medal Winners:
– Richard Blanco, poet and writer.
– Johnnetta Betch Cole, anthropologist.
— Walter Isaacson, writer.
— Earl Lewis, social historian.
— Henrietta Mann, Academician.
— Ann Patchett, author.
– Brian Stevenson, champion of the poor.
— Amy Tan, author.
— Tara Westover, author.
— Colson Whitehead, author.
– Native America is calling.