Legendary blues musician B.B. King, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and historian David McCullough were among those awarded the nation's highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom, today (De

Legendary blues musician B.B. King, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and historian David McCullough were among those awarded the nation's highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom, today (Dec. 15) by President George W. Bush.

Bush lauded King for overcoming his hardscrabble childhood in the South to become one of the world's greatest blues guitarists and singers. King was living alone by the time he was 9 and picked cotton for 35 cents a day, Bush recalled.

"It has been said that when John Lennon was asked to name his great ambition, he said, 'to play the guitar like B.B. King,"' Bush said. "Many musicians have had that same goal but nobody has ever been able to match the skill, or copy the sound of the King of the Blues."

At a ceremony in the White House East Room, Bush also praised Sharansky -- whose writings on democracy are said to have influenced Bush -- as someone who has led a "life of courage and conviction. Born to a Jewish family in Ukraine, Sharansky was accused of treason by the Soviets and imprisoned for 10 years. He later emigrated to Israel, where he became a prominent political figure known for his hawkish views.

McCullough is noted in particular for his biographies of Truman and John Adams. Others honored with the Medal of Freedom were former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, the late baseball player John "Buck" O'Neil, columnist William Safire, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Joshua Lederberg, British historian Paul Johnson, Xavier University president Norman Francis and literacy volunteer Ruth Colvin.


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