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Mindy Kaling, Bruce Springsteen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gladys Knight and Vera Wang are among those receiving the White House’s 2021 National Medals of Arts and Humanities.
The medals will be presented by President Joe Biden during an East Room ceremony on Tuesday, which was initially postponed due to the pandemic. First lady Jill Biden will also attend.
Actor-producer Kaling, who proved to be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood with The Office, The Mindy Project, Never Have I Ever and The Sex Lives of College Girls, is being recognized with an Arts Medal for her “work across television, film and books [that] inspires and delights — capturing and uplifting the experiences of women and girls across our nation.”
Oscar- and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Springsteen, who has released 21 albums during his career spanning six decades, is being honored for his music that “celebrates our triumphs, heals our wounds, and gives us hope, capturing the unyielding spirit of what it means to be American.”
Louis-Dreyfus, an actress and comedian known for her roles on Seinfeld, Saturday Night Live, The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veep, is receiving a medal for blazing “a trail for women in comedy and across American life through her commitment to excellence and the power of her example.”
Wang, who has been a force across the fashion industry, is being honored for her designs and bridal collections that “express individualism and elegance, making beauty and style accessible to all.” And singer-songwriter Knight is receiving an Arts Medal for her “exceptional talent [that] influenced musical genres — from rhythm and blues to gospel to pop — and inspired generations of artists, captivated by her soundtrack of a golden age in American music.”
Last year, while performing at the White House, Biden surprised Elton John with the National Humanities Medal for his songbook and his long legacy of advocacy.
The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and groups who advanced the arts in the United States. The National Humanities Medal honors those who have a deep understanding of the humanities and help engage others in related subjects.
A list of additional 2021 honorees follows, including descriptions from the White House.
National Medal of Arts Recipients
Judith Francisca Baca: Her collaborative work has turned forgotten histories into public memory — pioneering an art form that empowers communities to reclaim public space with dignity and pride.
Fred Eychaner: From dance and architecture to arts education and a lifetime of LGBTQI+ advocacy, he has helped give millions of people strength to be themselves and moved our country forward.
Jose Feliciano: Over 60 years, 60 albums, and 600 songs, he has opened hearts and built bridges — overcoming obstacles, never losing faith, and enriching the goodness and greatness of the Nation.
Antonio Martorell-Cardona: Transcending generation and genre, his art exposes hard truths with whimsy and color, to help us remember and grow, as people and as a Nation.
Joan Shigekawa: Throughout her career, she has championed artists, created global exchanges, and promoted the power of the arts to heal, build strong economies, and help people and Nations reach their full potential.
The Billie Holiday Theatre: Channeling its namesake’s exploration of freedom and identity, The Billie Holiday Theatre cultivates some of our Nation’s most renowned Black actors, writers, designers, and musicians and has expanded the reach of American artistic expression and achievement.
The International Association of Blacks in Dance: Through teaching, training, and performance, The International Association of Blacks in Dance promotes dance by people of African ancestry and origin, explores and exchanges art, spans cultures and generations, and enriches the dance culture of America.
National Humanities Medal Recipients
Richard Blanco: An award-winning poet and author, professor and public speaker, and son of Cuban immigrants, his powerful storytelling challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class while celebrating the promise of our Nation’s highest ideals.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole: A scholar, anthropologist, and academic pace-setter, her pioneering work about the on-going contributions of Afro-Latin, Caribbean, and African communities have advanced American understanding of Black culture and the necessity and power of racial inclusion in our Nation.
Walter Isaacson: Through the stories of our Nation’s remarkable citizens, his work, words and wisdom bridge divides between science and the humanities and between opposing philosophies, elevating discourse and our understanding of who we are as a Nation.
Earl Lewis: As a social historian and academic leader, he has made vital contributions to the field of Black history, educating generations of students, while also being a leading voice for greater diversity in academia and our Nation.
Henrietta Mann: Her pioneering efforts led to programs and institutions across the country devoted to the study of Native American history and culture, honoring ancestors that came before and benefiting generations that follow.
Ann Patchett: With her best-selling novels and essays, and her bookstore, readers from around the world see themselves in the pages of her books that take people to places of the heart and feed the imagination of our Nation.
Bryan Stevenson: An advocate fighting tirelessly for the poor, incarcerated and condemned, Stevenson follows the Book of Micah’s instruction to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly as he chronicles the legacy of lynching and racism in America, shining a light on what has been and all that we can be as a Nation.
Amy Tan: By bravely exploring experiences of immigrant families, heritage, memories and poignant struggles, her writing makes sense of the present through the past and adds ground-breaking narrative to the diverse sweep of American life and literature.
Tara Westover: Her memoirs of family, religion and the transformative power of education, has moved millions of readers and served as a powerful example of how the humanities can set people — and a Nation — free.
Colson Whitehead: With genre-defying craftsmanship and creativity, his celebrated novels make real the African-American journey through our Nation’s continued reckoning with the original sin of slavery and our ongoing march toward a more perfect Union.
Native America Calling: Through its interactive shows on the radio and online, Native America Calling educates the American public about Indigenous issues while preserving Indigenous history and culture to honor their contributions that strengthen the sacred Nation-to-Nation relationship.
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