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Elton John was moved to tears by a surprise award from President Biden

Sir Elton John speaks after being presented with the National Humanities Medal by President Biden as first lady Jill Biden looks on during an event at the South Lawn of the White House on Friday.
Alex Wong
/
Getty Images
Sir Elton John speaks after being presented with the National Humanities Medal by President Biden as first lady Jill Biden looks on during an event at the South Lawn of the White House on Friday.

Elton John has seen a lot in his more than 50 years as a professional musician, so it takes a lot to shock him.

But there he was at the White House on Friday, stunned and moved to tears by President Biden's decision to surprise the legendary songwriter with the National Humanities Medal.

"I'm never flabbergasted, but I'm flabbergasted and humbled and honored by this incredible award from the United States of America," John said. "I will treasure this so much."

The award described John, a longtime humanitarian who has helped raise hundreds of millions for the treatment of AIDS, as "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."

Biden presented the medal at the White House's "A Night When Hope and History Rhyme," which also commemorated teachers, students and frontline workers. John took a break from his farewell tour to attend and perform at the White House event.

It was the first time that the British pop star had played at the White House in over 20 years. John was invited to sing at former President Trump's inauguration in 2017 but ultimately declined.

Trump was known for being a big fan of John, often playing the singer's biggest hits like "Tiny Dancer" at his rallies.

"I have given it at lot of thought, and as a British National I don't feel that it's appropriate for me to play at the inauguration of an American President," John wrote to Trump's inaugural team in an email, according to the New York Times. "Please accept my apologies."

The last time that John performed at the White House was in 1998 during a state dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton.

NPR has reached out to John's press team and will update the story if we receive comment.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.