The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest decoration a civilian can receive from the Federal government. The award honors people who have made “especially merits contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The recognition often goes to members of the art and entertainment community: musicians like Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Frank Sinatra, and Stevie Wonder rank among pass recipients of the honor.
Today, President Barack Obama honored 21 new recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House, including a selection of actors (Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford), a pair of NBA legends (Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) NBC executive/Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, Bill and Melinda Gates. In addition Obama added two more musicians to the award’s list of honorees: Motown giant Diana Ross and the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.
While Obama had words of adoration for all of the medal recipients, he spoke at the greatest length–and with notable reverence–about Springsteen, a personal friend and longtime supporter. You can read Obama’s full speech about Bruce, and watch full video of the reception below:
“He was sprung from a cage out on Highway 9, a quiet kid from Jersey just trying to make sense of temples of dreams and the mystery that dotted his home town, pool halls, bars, girls, cars, alters, and assembly lines. For decades, Bruce Springsteen has brought us all along on a journey consumed with the bargains between ambition and injustice, pleasure and pain, the simple glories and scattered heartbreak of everyday life in America. To create one of his biggest hit, he once said, ‘I wanted to craft a record that sounded like the last record on Earth, the last one you ever needed to hear, one glorious noise, then the apocalypse. Every restless kid in America was given a story, ‘Born to Run’.
He didn’t stop there. Once he told us about himself, he told us about everyone else: the steelworker in ‘Youngstown’; the Vietnam vet in ‘Born in the USA’; the sick and marginalized on ‘Streets of Philadelphia’; the firefighter carrying the weight of a reeling but resilient nation on ‘The Rising’; the young solider reckoning with the ‘Devils and Dust’ in Iraq; the communities knocked down by recklessness and greed on ‘Wrecking Ball’; all of us with our faults and failings, every color, class, and creed, bound together by one defiant restless train rolling toward ‘The Land of Hope and Dreams’. These are all anthems of our America, the reality of who we are and the reverie of who we want to be.
The hallmark of a rock and roll band, Bruce Springsteen once said, is that the narrative you tell together is bigger than the one you could tell on your own. For decades, alongside The Big Man, Little Steven, a Jersey girl named Patti, and all the men and women of the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen has been carrying the rest of us on his journey, asking us all what is the work for us to do in our short time here.
I am the President, he is The Boss. Pushing 70, he’s still laying down four-hour live sets … fire-breathing rock and roll. I thought twice about giving him a medal named for freedom, because we hope he remains, in his word, a prisoner of rock and roll, for years to come.”
Finally, before the crowd dispersed, many of the honorees took their turn at completing the “Mannequin Challenge”–maybe the most star-studded attempt yet!
Congratulations to Bruce, Diana, and the rest of this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.