President Biden Honors Renowned Figures with 2021 National Medals of Arts and Humanities

In a ceremony held at the East Room on Tuesday, President Joe Biden presented the prestigious 2021 National Medals of Arts and Humanities.

The event, which had been postponed due to the pandemic, was attended by First Lady Jill Biden.

The National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal are prestigious awards conferred by the President of the United States to individuals and groups who have made significant contributions to the arts and humanities in the country.

This year, several distinguished artists, art patrons, and groups were honored for their significant contributions to the arts and humanities in the United States.

Celebrating Achievements in the Arts

Twelve exceptional artists and groups received the National Medal of Arts, the highest American award given to those who have advanced the arts in the country. The illustrious list of recipients included:

  • Mindy Kaling: The actress and producer was recognized for her work in television, film, and books that uplift the experiences of women and girls across the nation.

  • Gladys Knight: The singer-songwriter received an Arts Medal for her exceptional talent, which has influenced musical genres from rhythm and blues to gospel to pop and inspired generations of artists.

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: The actress and comedian was honored for blazing a trail for women in comedy and across American life through her commitment to excellence and the power of her example.

  • Bruce Springsteen: The Oscar- and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter was celebrated for his music that captures the unyielding spirit of what it means to be American and offers hope and healing.

Other awardees included “Feliz Navidad” songwriter and singer Jose Feliciano, renowned fashion designer Vera Wang, philanthropist Fred Eychaner, cultural grant maker Joan Shigekawa, and artists Judith Francisca Baca and Antonio Martorell-Cardona.

The Billie Holiday Theatre and the International Association of Blacks in Dance were also recognized for their contributions to American artistic expression and achievement.

Acknowledging Contributions to the Humanities

Eleven recipients were awarded the National Humanities Medal, which honors individuals or groups that have deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other related subjects. Notable awardees included:

  • Amy Tan: The author of “The Joy Luck Club” was honored for her exploration of immigrant family experiences, heritage, and struggles, which have contributed to the diverse sweep of American life and literature.

  • Richard Blanco: The award-winning poet and author, who delivered a poem at Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration, was recognized for his powerful storytelling that challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class.

  • Tara Westover: The memoirist was honored for her work that demonstrates the transformative power of education and serves as a powerful example of how the humanities can set people and a nation free.

  • Colson Whitehead: The celebrated novelist was recognized for his genre-defying craftsmanship and creativity that make the African-American journey real through the nation’s continued reckoning with the original sin of slavery and the ongoing march toward a more perfect Union.

Other recipients included author and former CNN CEO Walter Isaacson, 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 for its role in educating the American public about Indigenous issues and preserving Indigenous history and culture.

All recipients of both medals, except for Feliciano, attended the ceremony, making it a memorable event that celebrated the achievements of these outstanding individuals and organizations.

The National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal are prestigious awards conferred by the President of the United States to individuals and groups who have made significant contributions to the arts and humanities in the country.

These awards serve to recognize and celebrate the achievements of those who have enriched American culture, promoted understanding, and engaged citizens in various humanities subjects.

Article In a Snapshot

  • President Joe Biden presented the 2021 National Medals of Arts and Humanities to renowned figures in a ceremony held at the East Room on Tuesday.

  • The event, initially postponed due to the pandemic, was attended by First Lady Jill Biden.

  • Notable National Medal of Arts recipients include Mindy Kaling, Gladys Knight, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Bruce Springsteen.

  • National Humanities Medal honorees include Amy Tan, Richard Blanco, Tara Westover, and Colson Whitehead.

  • These prestigious awards celebrate significant contributions to the arts and humanities in the United States, enriching American culture and promoting understanding.

Craig Miller

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