Sir Elton John has been in the music industry for more than 50 years and achieved an incredible collection of awards — including Grammys, Oscars, and a Tony — along the way.
On Friday, however, he was “flabbergasted” to receive his first surprise award by the president of the United States.
After a performance at the South Lawn of the White House, President Joe Biden, alongside First Lady Jill Biden, presented John with the National Humanities Medal to honor his music and HIV advocacy.
“I’m humbled and honored by this incredible award from the United States of America,” John told the crowd. “I will treasure this so much.”
At the beginning of the evening, Biden touched on John’s 300 million record sales, 71 billboard hits, six Grammy awards, two Oscars, one Tony, and countless performances across the world. Both Bidens spoke of John’s reach and inspiration for listeners before they shifted the conversation to John’s work battling the HIV epidemic. The Elton John AIDS Foundation has benefited HIV causes around the globe, doling out hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
At the end of John’s performance, Biden and White House military aide Bill Yang presented the award to John, referring to him as “an enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma, and advance the simple truth that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The theme of the event itself, “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” commemorated teachers, students and frontline workers, and John stepped away from his farewell tour to make the performance work.
This was the first time John had performed at the White House since 1998 during a state dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton. He was also invited to perform at Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, but ultimately declined by saying he didn’t feel it “appropriate.”