Biden to award 2021 National Humanities medals and National Medal of the Arts at White House ceremony

By Meagan Vazquez

President Joe Biden will award the 2021 National Humanities Medals and the National Medal of Arts at a ceremony for the first time since taking office, according to the White House.

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. This year, Biden will honor 12 artists and groups, including actress and producer Mindy Kaling, singer Gladys Knight, and actor and comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Other recipients will include legendary performer Bruce Springsteen, “Feliz Navidad” songwriter and singer Jose Feliciano, fashion designer Vera Wang, philanthropist Fred Eychaner, and cultural grant maker Joan Shigekawa, as well as artists Judith Francisca Baca and Antonio Martorell-Cardona. As institutions, the Billie Holiday Theatre and the International Association of Blacks in Dance will receive the medal.

While this is the first time the president will host the event, he previously awarded a National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John in September 2022 during a White House event celebrating John’s life and work. Tuesday’s ceremony was among the backlog of White House events postponed during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the White House.

Biden will award the National Humanities Medal to 11 recipients.

The medal, inaugurated in 1997, “honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects,” according to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The list includes 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, will also receive the medal.

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 will receive the medal. The call-in public radio program Native America Calling will also receive the award.

All the recipients of both medals, except Feliciano, are expected to attend Tuesday’s ceremony, according to the White House.