People

Billie Tsien

Articles

President Barack Obama with honoree Linda Ronstadt (Photo WhiteHouse.gov)

Honoring the country’s arts and humanities luminaries.

By Connie Lawn

President Barack Obama with honoree Linda Ronstadt (Photo WhiteHouse.gov)

President Barack Obama with honoree Linda Ronstadt (Photo WhiteHouse.gov)

President Barack Obama loves to award honors to people who have accomplished a lot in life. Awards ceremonies also give him the chance to break away from the many crises he must face.

On July 28, he spent about half an hour presenting 22 heavy polished bronze medallions to those with significant achievements in the arts and humanities over their lifetimes.

The award which meant the most to me went to singer Linda Ronstadt for her contributions to music and the arts. She appeared to be the youngest person in the group, and President Obama told her he had a crush on her “back in the day.” Like me, Ronstadt suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. It has limited her ability to walk and sing. She was wheeled into the ceremony in a wheel chair, but stood up to honor the President when he came in. When it was her turn to receive her medal, she walked up to the stage to be awarded and embraced by the President. Take it from me, standing must have been painful and required great effort.

Another well-known recipient was public radio host Diane Rehm. She was described as “a radio host whose incisive, confident and curious voice has deepened our understanding of our communities and our culture.” Rehm has struggled to maintain her voice over the years, and has undergone painful medical procedures. Her husband recently died from Parkinson’s and related diseases.

After the dignified ceremony the honorees and their friends were treated to a Champagne reception. A military orchestra played but we in the press had no chance to mingle with them; we were kept behind ropes and then led down marble stairs, away from the guests. That is always the case on such occasions, and has been for as long as I have covered them. Still, it is a privilege to be allowed in, and to be part of such wonderful occasions.

View the presentation in its entirety here and the full list of medal winners below.

2013 National Humanities Medal recipients:

– M. H. Abrams, literary critic
– David Brion Davis, historian
– William Theodore De Bary, East Asian Studies scholar
– Darlene Clark Hine, historian
– Johnpaul Jones, architect
– Stanley Nelson, producer and director
– Diane Rehm, radio host
– Anne Firor Scott, historian
– Krista Tippett, radio host and author
– American Antiquarian Society, historical organization

2013 National Medal of Arts recipients:

– Julia Alvarez, author
– Bill T. Jones, dancer and choreographer
– Maxine Hong Kingston, author
– Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, architects
– Brooklyn Academy of Music, performing and visual arts organization
– John Kander, composer
– Albert Maysles, documentary filmmaker
– James Turrell, artist
– Joan Harris, arts patron/leader
– Jeffrey Katzenberg, motion picture executive
– Linda Ronstadt, singer

Billie Tsien

Articles