(September 23, 2022)
8:18 P.M. EDT
THE FIRST LADY: Hello! Good evening. Thank you, Athen. It’s leaders like you, those helping the next generation live authentically and find their voice, who make me so hopeful for our future.
And thank you to Paul Buccieri and A&E — (applause) — for helping us put this event together.
Isn’t this incredible? (Applause.)
First Lady Laura Bush is with us tonight. (Applause.) And, Laura, it’s such an honor to welcome you and your family back to the White House. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to say what a joy it is to be here with the man who has inspired, supported, and loved Sir Elton John for so many years: his husband, David. (Applause.)
Few things have the power to bring us together like music. It can compel us to move as one on the dance floor, to sing along with strangers when we hear that familiar tune. It’s a voice for the feelings we can’t always define.
When the piano plays, the strings swell, the drums beat in time with our hearts, we find joy or a balm for our sorrows or the harmonies that tell us we aren’t alone.
And in that spirit, as we celebrate Elton John’s music, we also celebrate you — everyday history-makers. (Applause.)
Many of you are my colleagues — fellow teachers, like Leah Michael Dillard. (Applause.) Love the teachers! So, Leah has taught 7th grade English for 20 years. And, Leah, your students are better thinkers and more engaged citizens because of you. (Applause.)
We also have first responders and healthcare heroes like — (applause) — like Dr. Amber Pearson. Amber was the first person in her family to go to college. And it wasn’t easy. She worked multiple jobs, took out loan, and when she finally reached her dream, she gave back to others, as an audiologist for veterans and their families, serving the women and men who serve us so well. (Applause.)
And in this crowd are leaders of the beautiful, bold, and diverse future we are building together, like Javier Gomez, a student from Miami. When his governor passed a law targeting the LGBTQ community, he didn’t sit back.
Javier, you remind us of the power of one person who is willing to speak up for what is right, and that’s what this night is all about. (Applause.) Coming together, using our voices, celebrating that, here in America, our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, (inaudible). (Applause.)
THE FIRST LADY: (Laughs.) Elton once said, “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for just a few hours.”
We’re here tonight to once again lose ourselves and be brought together — perhaps even healed — by the power of music. (Applause.)
And now, I get to introduce another huge fan, who also happens to be the President of the United States and my husband, Joe Biden. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: You had to stand for Jill, but you can sit for me. (Laughter.) Please, all have a seat. Please, have a seat.
Thank you, Jill. Thank you all for being here — (applause) — on such a special evening.
And, Athen, leaders like you are helping the next generation live an authentic voice. And I want to thank you very much for introducing me.
Look, I — as my colleagues — many of whom from the Senate are still here, came tonight — they always used to kid me because I — I was quoting Irish poets on the floor of the Senate.
The think I did it because I’m Irish. That’s not the reason; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. (Laughter and applause.)
One who we lost not too long ago, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, and I quote, “Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”
Throughout this incre- — his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave — a tidal wave to help people rise up and make hope and history rhyme. Three hundred million records sold. (Applause.) Seventy-one billboard hits, nearly half in the top ten. Six Grammy Awards. Two Oscars. One Tony, among the multiple, multiple nominations across the board. Four thousand performances around the world. A singer, songwriter of our time, for all time.
On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people.
So, like so many Americans, our family loves his music. His songs take us — take us back to a time, a place, a memory. Songs that make every day exceptional, help us connect and come alive. And songs that reflect the artist’s gift, that sixth sense to imagine what no one else can, and then sing and play and dream until he sets that feeling free.
As Jill just mentioned, we’re joined by so many people that it’s — he’s set free to be themselves, to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. (Applause.)
Families and advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS — (applause) — a fight — a fight that he has led with sheer will, and fight for those lives lost and those lives that we can save.
Leaders standing up for equality of all people, no matter who you are or who you love.
Every day — (applause) — every day Americans of every generation, of every background who know that life can be cruel and full of struggle, but it can also be full of joy and purpose.
And we’re joined tonight by the UK Ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce, during a difficult time. (Applause.) Karen, where are you? Karen, thank you. Thank you for being here, Karen.
Jill and I travelled to London to pay our respects to the Royal Family on the Queen’s passing.
Our hopes tonight — our hope is that Sir Elton John’s music heals the sorrow, as it often has in the past.
Throughout his career, Elton found his voice — not only his voice, but his voice to help others and help them find their voice.
With his hope, he made history rhyme for countless people in our nation. That’s what tonight is all about.
Elton often talked about how American music changed his life and how the different genres and sounds influenced his own music and imagination. It’s clear Elton John’s music has changed our lives.
To David and the boys, thank you for sharing your husband and dad with us tonight. (Applause.) And to Elton, on behalf of the American people, thank you — and I sincerely mean this — thank you for moving the soul of our nation. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, if my mom were here, she’d say, “God bless you son. Let’s hear your music.” Thank you. (Applause.)
(The event begins.)
(The event concludes.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, tonight it’s my great honor — and I mean this sincerely — to present the National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John. (Applause.)
Major Yang, please read the citation.
MILITARY AIDE: Honored, sir.
Good evening, everyone. The President of the United States awards this National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John for moving our souls with his powerful voice in one of the defining songbooks of all time. An enduring icon and advocate with absolutely courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma, and advance the simple truth that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. (Applause.)
(President Biden presents the National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John.)
THE PRESIDENT: I think we surprised him.
SIR ELTON JOHN: I just said to the First Lady: I’m never flabbergasted, but I’m flabbergasted — (laughter) — and humbled and honored by this incredible award from the United States of America. I will treasure this so much — (applause) — and it will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away.
Your kindness — America’s kindness to me as a musician is second to none. But in the war against AIDS and HIV, it’s even bigger. And I can’t thank you enough. I’m really — I’m really emotional about this. (Applause.) And thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: And, by the way, it’s all his fault that we’re spending $6 billion in taxpayer money this month to help AIDS — fight HIV/AIDS. (Applause.)
9:19 P.M. EDT