George Shirley, Sally Field and Stephen King were among those honored with the National Medal of the Arts at The White House.
By Patrick D. McCoy
The skies of downtown D.C. were overcast, but nothing could dim the festivity that shined in the artistic achievements of several greats honored in the East Room for the National Medal of Arts ceremony at The White House. How befitting it was for elegant orchestral music greet guests as they arrived for ceremony. The East Room seemed to bustle with great anticipation as the invited guests awaited the arrival of the afternoon’s honorees.
The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government. It’s awarded by the President of the United States to individuals or groups who “are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”
Following presentation of the National Medal of Arts was the presentation the National Humanities Medals. Recognizably present arts leaders for the ceremony were NEA Chairman Jane Chu and Aaron Dworkin, founder of Sphinx and now Dean of the University of Michigan School of Music. There were eleven recipients of the National Medal of Arts. They were: visual artist John Baldessari, theater director Ping Chong, actress Miriam Colón, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, actress Sally Field, visual artist Ann Hamilton, author Stephen King, folk singer Meredith Monk, the University Musical Society, author and educator Tobias Wolff and operatic tenor George Shirley. Presented the medals by President Obama, there was a sense of joy and adulation experienced by each recipient receiving the nation’s highest honor recognizing accomplishments in the arts.
Of special note, WL Performing Arts were among the guests for an invitation-only breakfast reception hosted by the D.C. area arts advocacy organization The Coalition for African-Americans in the Performing Arts in honor of National Medal of Arts recipient George Shirley. Held at the Westin Hotel, the organization’s executive director Terri Allen provided an intimate opportunity for close colleagues, aspiring musicians and friends to have an audience with the legendary singer before his leaving for The White House Ceremony. Members of the Washington arts community present were 2013 recipient medal recipient Washington Performing Arts represented by President and CEO Jenny Bilfield, teachers of music including Dominic Cossa, Regina McConnell, among a few others. Notably present was also U.S. Army chorus member and opera Singer Alvy Powell. He shares a special connection with the legendary tenor, being that Shirley was the first African-American member of the U. S. Army Chorus.
Born in 1934, George Shirley became the first African-American tenor to sing a leading role at The Metropolitan Opera. Still active as a distinguished teacher, singer and advocate of music education, Shirley has achieved another historic moment worthy of the great stage.
After earning degrees in music from Virginia State University and Shenandoah University, Patrick D. McCoy has contributed arts pieces to CBS Washington and The Afro-American Newspaper, among others. He also writes the magazine’s monthly performing arts column “Perfect Pitch.” McCoy may be reached via email at email@example.com and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.