*Soprano Jessye Norman was recognized by the White House on Thursday along with folk legend Bob Dylan, actor/filmmaker Clint Eastwood, Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect Maya Lin and Hollywood composer John Williams as recipients of arts and humanities awards.
Obama credited Norman for “broadening contemporary operatic repertoire” before bestowing her with the 2009 National Medal of Arts.
Dylan was called “an icon of youthful rebellion and poetic sensitivity” by the president, while Eastwood’s films and performances are “essays in individuality, hard truths and the essence of what it means to be American,” Obama said.
Neither Dylan nor Eastwood were able to make the East Room ceremony. However, Dylan performed at the White House’s recent Black History Month concert celebrating music of the civil rights era.
Obama on Thursday also welcomed author and activist Elie Wiesel to accept an award for his work to educate the country on the Holocaust and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas for his efforts to expand audiences and the repertoire for contemporary music.
“Each has taken a different path to get here, each has made the most of different gifts, but all of them have reached the peaks of cultural achievement and all of them are a testament to the breadth and depth of the human spirit,” Obama said.
Noting the country produced talents ranging from Mark Twain to Toni Morrison, John Philip Sousa to Louis Armstrong, Obama praised the United States’ diversity.
“They bring us joy, they bring us understanding and insight, they bring us comfort in good times and perhaps especially in difficult times in our own lives and the life of our nation,” he said.
Others receiving medals: • Rita Moreno, winner of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. • Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen. • Milton Glaser, a designer best known for his “I Love New York” logo. • Joseph P. Riley, Jr., mayor of Charleston, S.C., who helped build historic and cultural resources in the city. • Frank Stella, an artist the White House called “one of the world’s most innovative painters and sculptors.” • Robert A. Caro, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner known for his biographies of Robert Moses and President Lyndon B. Johnson. • Pulitzer Prize-winner Annette Gordon-Reed, whose research unearthed President Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his slaves, including Sally Hemings. • Historian David Levering Lewis, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of W.E.B. Du Bois. • Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. • Philanthropist Albert H. Small, whom the White House praised “for his devotion to sharing early American manuscripts with our nation’s cultural and educational institutions.” • Ohio’s Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the country’s oldest continuously operating conservatory. • New York’s School of American Ballet, the dance program co-founded by George Balanchine based at the Lincoln Center.