In light of the Paris attacks earlier this month, it was the perfect time for President Obama to recognize all the beauty and inspiration music brings into our lives by honoring a handful of legendary artists at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony. On Tuesday (Nov. 24), Obama paid tribute to Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and Gloria and Emilio Estefan, among others, for the emotion and passion they bring to their songs, their fans and the world.
The event was broadcast live on C-SPAN from Washington, D.C. Obama gave the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 17 Americans.
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“Off the stage, [Streisand has] been a passionate advocate for issues like heart disease and women’s equality,” Obama said in his opening statement. “I’m getting all verklempt just thinking about it,” the president joked in Yiddish, referencing the SNL skit “Coffee Talk.”
Taylor’s introduction was packed to the brim with lyrical puns. Before the night ended, there were two “Fire and Rain” jokes — one of which is even in the official citation. “You always feel like he’s singing only to you,” Obama described Taylor. “That’s why he’s become one of the driving forces of the singer-songwriter movement.”
The president delved into the love story of the Estefans, explaining their rich history and their long-lasting cultural impact. “Some worried they were too American for Latins and too Latin for Americans; turns out everybody just wanted to dance and do the conga.”
Other recipients included violinist Itzhak Perlman, musical-theater composer Stephen Sondheim, director Steven Spielberg and Sen. Barbara Mikulski.