WASHINGTON — President Biden welcomed a high-wattage collection of singers, authors, artists and humanitarians to the White House on Tuesday to present them with medals – and then stole the show himself with a quip about seeking reelection.

Maine poet and author Richard Blanco, Bruce Springsteen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling and Gladys Knight were among the 22 people and organizations being honored.

When author Colson Whitehead’s award was announced, Biden noted that the author of “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” has already won back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes.

The president, who is expected to announce for reelection this spring, quickly picked up on that and joked that he was looking “for a back-to-back myself,” drawing a laugh from the audience.

It was a feel-good event in the East Room, as the honorees stepped forward to receive their awards one by one. Louis-Dreyfus, who channeled Biden’s resume when she starred in “Veep,” jokingly sagged under the weight when the president placed the medal for the arts around her neck. Springsteen, with his everyman persona, looked incongruous in a black suit.

President Biden presents a National Humanities Medal to Richard Blanco at White House in Washington on Tuesday. Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Blanco stunned in a teal tuxedo. Knight, the “empress of soul,” gave the president a giant hug when he put the medal around her neck.


Biden joked that he opens his closet to find designer Vera Wang inside – her clothes, anyway – then said, “Your dresses always look beautiful on my wife.”

The medals are Biden’s first batch of awards for the arts and humanities and were delayed by the pandemic. The president surprised Sir Elton John with a National Humanities Medal during a White House musical event last September.

Recipients of the National Medal of Arts:

Judith Francisca Baca, artist

Fred Eychaner, businessman and philanthropist

Jose Feliciano, singer


Mindy Kaling, actress

Gladys Knight, singer

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actor

Antonio Martorell-Cardona, painter

Joan Shigekawa, film producer

Bruce Springsteen, musician


Vera Wang, fashion designer

The Billie Holiday Theatre

The International Association of Blacks in Dance

Recipients of the National Humanities Medal:

Richard Blanco, poet and author

Johnnetta Betsch Cole, anthropologist


Walter Isaacson, writer

Earl Lewis, social historian

Henrietta Mann, academic

Ann Patchett, author

Bryan Stevenson, advocate for the poor

Amy Tan, author.

Tara Westover, author

Colson Whitehead, author

Native America Calling

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