Chants of “Bruuuuuce!” were heard at the White House on Tuesday, as President Biden honored Bruce Springsteen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gladys Knight and nearly two dozen other artists and organizations with the government’s highest arts award.
“The Boss is here!” Biden said before a packed audience in the East Room for the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal ceremony. The pair of medals mark the highest awards given to artists by the United States government.
“Bruce, some people are just born to run, man,” Biden said, as the crowd chanted the “Thunder Road” singer’s name.
It was a belated celebration of sorts for the group of performers, writers and musicians. The recipients at the White House on Tuesday were actually the 2021 winners, but an in-person event honoring them was delayed due to COVID-19.
Biden also drew laughs as he greeted guests to the ceremony, welcoming his “friend,” President Selina Meyer, the fictional commander in chief Louis-Dreyfus played on HBO’s “Veep.”
“I’m going to talk to Julia [about] whether she liked being president or VP better,” Biden said.
“A mom, a cancer survivor, a pioneer for a women in comedy: She is an American original,” Biden said of Louis-Dreyfus as the actor grinned from the audience.
The president ribbed his wife, Jill Biden, as he recognized fashion designer Vera Wang. Biden said when he was first introduced to Wang, he told the fashion maven, “Every time I open the closet I see [you.]”
“Jill turned to me and said, ‘What’d you say that for?’” Biden remarked.
“It’s all those labels – Vera Wang,” Biden said he clarified to his spouse. “I could’ve said it a little better than ‘I open the closet and see you all the time.’”
“I know your dresses always look beautiful on my wife,” Biden told Wang.
After stumbling over Joan Shigekawa’s name at one point, Biden told the producer, “I have trouble pronouncing it. You can call me Bid-en,” he cracked, rhyming part of his name with “kid.”
Biden praised legendary singer Knight, calling her “one of the best things to ever happen in terms of music.”
As he honored Colson Whitehead, Biden mentioned the “Underground Railroad” author becoming the first fiction writer to earn back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes. Alluding to his own likely 2024 reelection bid, Biden said to cheers from the crowd, “I’m kind of looking for back-to-back myself.”
The full list of 2021 National Medal of Arts recipients included musician Jose Feliciano — who didn’t attend the ceremony while on tour, artist Judith Francisca Baca, radio station owner Fred Eychaner, actor Mindy Kaling, the International Association of Blacks in Dance, the Billie Holiday Theatre and painter Antonio Martorell Cardona.
Poet Richard Blanco, author Walter Isaacson, educator Johnnetta Betsch Cole, academic Henrietta Mann, author Ann Patchett, “The Joy Luck Club” author Amy Tan, historian Earl Lewis, Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson, Native America Calling and author Tara Westover were among the other 2021 National Humanities Medal winners.