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Bruce Springsteen, Gladys Knight among group honored at the White House

By Maegan Vazquez and Nikki Carvajal, CNN

Songstress Gladys Knight, actress Mindy Kaling and designer Vera Wang were among a group of creatives, writers, advocates and scholars honored at the White House on Tuesday with the 2021 National Humanities Medals and the National Medal of Arts, marking the first time President Joe Biden has held a ceremony for the awards since taking office.

“We’re a nation, a great nation, in large part because of the power of the arts and humanities. That’s stamped into the DNA of America,” Biden said during the ceremony in the East Room. “Today … (we) continue the legacy of awarding two of our nation’s highest honors to 23 extraordinary Americans.”

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 honored 12 artists and groups, including actor and comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus and legendary performer Bruce Springsteen.

Other recipients included Knight, Wang, Kaling, “Feliz Navidad” songwriter and singer Jose Feliciano, 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 received the medal.

While this is the first time the president hosted 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 also awarded 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 of recipients 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, received the medal as well.

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

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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