Sir Elton John was moved to tears as President Joe Biden surprised the enduring music icon with a National Humanities Medal.
John, at the White House on Friday to perform at A+E and History’s “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” looked visibly shocked and humbled as the president addressed the thousands in the audience. “Tonight is my great honor, and I mean this sincerely, to present the National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John,” Biden said.
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A White House officer elaborated on John’s contributions, saying, “The President of the United States awards this National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John for moving our souls with his powerful voice, one of the defining songbooks of all time. An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance a simple truth: that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
It was a bipartisan night on the South Lawn of the White House, which was packed with teachers, first responders, and veterans, as well as Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager, Anna Kendrick, activist Malala Yousafzai and tennis legend Billie Jean King. Paul Buccieri, president and chairman of A+E Networks Group, opened the evening by welcoming the guests to the White House.
Over the course of the brisk evening, John received a total of seven standing ovations as he delighted the crowd with some of his biggest hits, including “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” “Your Song” and “I’m Still Standing.”
John spoke throughout the night about the advocacy and work he’s done since creating the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1991, adding that he wants to eradicate the disease by 2030. “We can do it, and we will,” he said defiantly.
Joe Biden surprises a teary Elton John by awarding him with the National Humanities Medal. pic.twitter.com/oh7rITBWZr
— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) September 24, 2022
He also thanked George W. Bush, who was not in attendance, for his “astonishing” work to expedite the fight against HIV and AIDS. He addressed the former president’s wife, saying, “President Bush accelerated the whole thing with his PEPFAR bill. We would have never gotten as far without President Bush — please tell him for me, give him a big hug. I just wish America could be more bipartisan on everything.”
“The AIDS epidemic,” he mentioned earlier in the night, “has always been bipartisan in America. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rang [United States Senator] Lindsey Graham. And to his credit, he’s always come through.”
Past recipients of the National Humanities Medal, a recognition that’s given to people whose work as “deepens the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities,” include National Public Radio host Terry Gross, chef José Andrés and Elie Wiesel.
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