WASHINGTON (AP) - President Joe Biden welcomed a high-wattage collection of singers, authors, artists and humanitarians to the White House on Tuesday to present them with medals — and then stole the show himself with a quip about seeking reelection.
Bruce Springsteen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling and Gladys Knight were among the 22 people and organizations being honored. When author Colson Whitehead’s award was announced, Biden noted that the author of "The Underground Railroad" and "The Nickel Boys" has already won back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes.
The president, who is expected to announce for reelection this spring, quickly picked up on that and joked that he was looking "for a back-to-back myself," drawing a laugh from the audience.
It was a feel-good event in the East Room, as the honorees stepped forward to receive their awards one by one. Louis-Dreyfus, who channeled Biden’s resume when she starred in "Veep," jokingly sagged under the weight when the president placed the medal for the arts around her neck. Springsteen, with his everyman persona, looked incongruous in a black suit. Poet and author Richard Blanco stunned in a teal tuxedo. Knight, the "empress of soul," gave the president a giant hug when he put the medal around her neck.
Biden joked that he opens his closet to find designer Vera Wang inside — her clothes, anyway — then said, "Your dresses always look beautiful on my wife."
The medals are Biden’s first batch of awards for the arts and humanities and were delayed by the pandemic. The president surprised Sir Elton John with a National Humanities Medal during a White House musical event last September. Below is the list of 2021 recipients:
2021 National Medal of Arts Recipients
Judith Francisca Baca: Judith Francisca Baca’s collaborative work has turned forgotten histories into public memory—pioneering an art form that empowers communities to reclaim public space with dignity and pride.
Fred Eychaner: From dance and architecture to arts education and a lifetime of LGBTQI+ advocacy, Fred Eychaner has helped give millions of people the strength to be themselves and moved our country forward.
Jose Feliciano: Over 60 years, 60 albums, and 600 songs, Jose Feliciano has opened hearts and built bridges—overcoming obstacles, never losing faith, and enriching the goodness and greatness of the Nation.
Mindy Kaling: Imbued with humor and heart, Mindy Kaling’s work across television, film, and books inspires and delights—capturing and uplifting the experiences of women and girls across our Nation.
Actress Mindy Kaling receives the 2021 National Medal of Arts from US President Joe Biden during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. President Biden is bestowing 12 honorees with the 2021
Gladys Knight: Gladys Knight’s exceptional talent influenced musical genres—from rhythm and blues to gospel to pop—and inspired generations of artists, captivated by her soundtrack of a golden age in American music.
Musician Gladys Knight receives the 2021 National Medal of Arts from US President Joe Biden during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. President Biden is bestowing 12 honorees with the 202
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: As one of the most decorated comedic actors of our time, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has blazed a trail for women in comedy and across American life through her commitment to excellence and the power of her example.
US President Joe Biden awards actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus with the 2021 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 21, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Image
Antonio Martorell-Cardona: Transcending generation and genre, Antonio Martorell-Cardona’s art exposes hard truths with whimsy and color, to help us remember and grow, as people and as a Nation.
Joan Shigekawa: Throughout her career, Joan Shigekawa has championed artists, created global exchanges, and promoted the power of the arts to heal, build strong economies, and help people and Nations reach their full potential.
Bruce Springsteen: One of our greatest performers and storytellers, Bruce Springsteen’s music celebrates our triumphs, heals our wounds, and gives us hope, capturing the unyielding spirit of what it means to be American.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: U.S. President Joe Biden awards singer Bruce Springsteen a 2021 National Medal of Art during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on March 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. The awards ceremony is the first for Biden, wh
Vera Wang: From the runway to red carpets to retail stores, Vera Wang’s modern designs and bridal collections express individualism and elegance, making beauty and style accessible to all.
Fashion designer Vera Wang departs after being awarded with the 2021 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 21, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
The Billie Holiday Theatre: Channeling its namesake’s exploration of freedom and identity, The Billie Holiday Theatre cultivates some of our Nation’s most renowned Black actors, writers, designers, and musicians and has expanded the reach of American artistic expression and achievement.
The International Association of Blacks in Dance: Through teaching, training, and performance, The International Association of Blacks in Dance promotes dance by people of African ancestry and origin, explores and exchanges art, spans cultures and generations, and enriches the dance culture of America.
2021 National Humanities Medal Recipients
Richard Blanco: An award-winning poet and author, professor and public speaker, and son of Cuban immigrants, Richard Blanco’s powerful storytelling challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class while celebrating the promise of our Nation’s highest ideals.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole: A scholar, anthropologist, and academic pace-setter, Johnnetta Betsch Cole’s pioneering work about the ongoing contributions of Afro-Latin, Caribbean, and African communities have advanced American understanding of Black culture and the necessity and power of racial inclusion in our Nation.
Walter Isaacson: Through the stories of our Nation’s remarkable citizens, Walter Isaacson’s work, words, and wisdom bridge divides between science and the humanities and between opposing philosophies, elevating discourse and our understanding of who we are as a Nation.
US President Joe Biden awards author Walter Isaacson with the 2021 National Humanities Medal during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 21, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Earl Lewis: As a social historian and academic leader, Earl Lewis has made vital contributions to the field of Black history, educating generations of students, while also being a leading voice for greater diversity in academia and our Nation.
Henrietta Mann: The pioneering efforts of Henrietta, Ho’oesto’oona'e, Mann, led to programs and institutions across the country devoted to the study of Native American history and culture, honoring ancestors that came before and benefiting generations that follow.
Ann Patchett: With her best-selling novels and essays, and her bookstore, readers from around the world see themselves in the pages of Ann Patchett’s books that take people to places of the heart and feed the imagination of our Nation.
US President Joe Biden awards author Ann Patchett with the 2021 National Humanities Medal during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 21, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Bryan Stevenson: An advocate fighting tirelessly for the poor, incarcerated, and condemned, Bryan Stevenson follows the Book of Micah’s instruction to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly as he chronicles the legacy of lynching and racism in America, shining a light on what has been and all that we can be as a Nation.
Amy Tan: By bravely exploring experiences of immigrant families, heritage, memories, and poignant struggles, Amy Tan’s writing makes sense of the present through the past and adds a ground-breaking narrative to the diverse sweep of American life and literature.
Tara Westover: Tara Westover’s memoirs of family, religion, and the transformative power of education, have moved millions of readers and served as a powerful example of how the humanities can set people — and a Nation— free.
Colson Whitehead: With genre-defying craftsmanship and creativity, Colson Whitehead’s celebrated novels make real the African-American journey through our Nation’s continued reckoning with the original sin of slavery and our ongoing march toward a more perfect Union.
US President Joe Biden awards author Colson Whitehead with the 2021 National Humanities Medal during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 21, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
Native America Calling: Through its interactive shows on the radio and online, Native America Calling educates the American public about Indigenous issues while preserving Indigenous history and culture to honor their contributions that strengthen the sacred Nation-to-Nation relationship.