President Joe Biden Surprises Elton John With National Humanities Medal
Elton John stated Friday that he had played in many beautiful venues, but that the stage in front the White House, under a huge tent on a perfect fall night, was “probably just the icing on top .”
Then, he opened the show with “Your Song”, his first international hit.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the 75-year-old singer, talking about his activism, the power of his music and his all-around goodness. A E and History Channel funded the event.
Biden stated that Seamus Heaney once wrote, I quote, “Once in a life, the longed for tidal waves of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.” Sir Elton John was that tidal waves, a tidal tide to help people rise up, and make history and hope rhyme throughout his amazing career.
John was surprised by Biden at the end of the program with the National Humanities Medal. It was for his songbook, and his long history of advocacy.
John cried out, saying he was “flabbergasted .”
The 2,000-person guest list included teachers, nurses, frontline workers and LGBTQ advocates, plus former first lady Laura Bush, civil rights advocate Ruby Bridges, education activist Malala Yousafzai and Jeanne White-Ginder, an AIDS activist and mother of Ryan White, who died from AIDS-related complications in 1990.
In fact, the night was called “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme”, a reference to the poem Biden that Ireland’s Heaney had quoted.
John was performing his first White House gig since performing with Stevie Wonder at a 1998 state dinner honoring British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At age 75, John is on a farewell tour after performing for more than 50 years.
According to people familiar with the discussions, who spoke to the AP under anonymity to discuss internal planning, the show was put together by A E Networks, the History Channel, and John.
The broadcast date of the show is not yet known. John has previously worked with A E on his global HIV/AIDS charity Elton John Foundation. This foundation has raised more $525 millions to fight the virus around the globe.
As part of his final tour, John will be in town Saturday to play Nationals Park. In July, he opened Philadelphia’s final leg of his North American farewell tour.
The president and first lady are huge fans. Biden wrote in a 2017 memoir about singing “Crocodile Rock” to his two young boys as he drove them to school and again later to son Beau before he died of cancer at age 46.
Biden wrote, “I started singing Beau’s lyrics, quietly so only the two of us could hear them,” “Beau didn’t open his eyes, but I was able to see through my own tears that Beau was smiling .”
John played the song Friday and said that Biden used to sing it.
Donald Trump, Biden’s predecessor was also a fan. John refused to perform at his 2017 Inauguration, saying that he thought it was inappropriate for a Briton to play at the swearing in of an American president.
The White House said Friday’s show was not an attempt to troll Trump. John has praised John in books and has featured John’s music in his pre-rally playlists throughout the years. Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “rocket Man” because of his record of firing missiles.
To thunderous applause, John played “Tiny Dancer”, Friday.
Sir Elton — he was knighted in 1998 by Queen Elizabeth II — has sold over 300 million records worldwide, played over 4,000 shows in 80 countries and recorded one of the best-selling singles of all time, his 1997 reworking of “Candle In The Wind” to eulogize Princess Diana, which sold 33 million copies.