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Elton John awarded National Humanities Medal at the White House

"I will treasure this so much," said an emotional John upon receiving the honour from President Joe Biden

By Tom Skinner

Elton John
Elton John. CREDIT: Gregg Kemp

Elton John has been honoured with the National Humanities Medal for his longtime work towards HIV and AIDS efforts.

The legendary musician was given the award at the White House in Washington D.C. by US President Joe Biden on Friday evening (September 23).

At the event, dubbed ‘A Night When Hope and History Rhyme’, John played a special live set including his hits ‘Your Song’, ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘I’m Still Standing’. Biden surprised the artist by appearing onstage to present him with the National Humanities Medal.

John was visibly shocked and emotional, covering his face and wiping away tears as the audience clapped and cheered. In a message that was read out during the ceremony, the singer was praised “for moving our souls with his powerful voice and one of the defining song books of all time”.

The message continued: “An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance the simple truth – that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

John, who founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, then said he was “flabbergasted, humbled and honoured by this incredible award from the United States of America”, adding: “I will treasure this so much, and it will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away.”

In a statement, John explained: “It’s been emotional for me to be recognised for the achievements of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Since I founded the Foundation at my kitchen table in Atlanta 30 years ago, I made a commitment not to leave anyone behind and will continue on this mission.

“We are striving for a future where people of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, and gender identities have the opportunity to live free from AIDS, stigma, injustice and maltreatment – and I’m so grateful recognition likes this brings us a step closer to making that a reality.” 

Per a press release, ‘A Night When Hope and History Rhyme’ was staged to celebrate “the unifying and healing power of music, commend the life and work of Sir Elton John, and honour the everyday history-makers in the audience, including teachers, nurses, frontline workers, mental health advocates, students, LGBTQ+ advocates and more”.

John last visited the White House back in 1998, when Bill Clinton welcomed UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at a state dinner.

Elton John is currently on the North American leg of his ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road World Tour’. On Saturday (September 24), he performed a 23-song set at the Nationals Park stadium in Washington D.C.

Reviewing the star’s headline concert in Watford this summer, Rolling Stone UK said the set served as a “perfect farewell from a man still performing at the near-peak of his powers after 50 years”.

Last month saw the musical icon team up with Britney Spears on ‘Hold Me Closer’, a reworking of his tracks ‘Tiny Dancer’ (1972) and ‘The One’ (1992).