President Barack Obama presented awards last Thursday at the White House to two-dozen recipients of the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal, including music producer Berry Gordy, author Sandra Cisneros, playwright and actor Luis Valdez and author Isabel Wilkerson.
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities support artistic excellence, creativity and individuals.
Sandra Cisneros was recognized for enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures.
Morgan Freeman won an award for his outstanding work as an actor, director, and narrator. His iconic stage and screen performances have brought to life characters from the whole spectrum of the human experience, moving audiences around the world, and influencing countless young artists.
Berry Gordy received an award for helping to create a trailblazing new sound in American music. As a record producer and songwriter, he helped build Motown, launching the music careers of countless legendary artists.
Santiago Jiménez Jr. won for expanding the horizon of American music. He has helped spread traditional conjunto music, blending the sounds and cultures of south Texas and Mexico. His melodies performed on the two-button accordion have captivated audiences around the world.
Audra McDonald was recognized for lighting up Broadway as one of its brightest stars. An unforgettable performer, she has won six Tony awards.
Rudolfo Anaya was awarded for his pioneering stories of the American southwest. His works of fiction and poetry celebrate the Chicano experience.
Wynton Marsalis won for celebrating the traditions of jazz music from New Orleans to Lincoln Center and beyond.
An organization, the Prison University Project, received an award for transforming the lives of currently incarcerated people through higher education.
Luis Valdez won for bringing Chicano culture to American drama. As a playwright, actor, writer, and director, he examines social injustice through award-winning stage, film, and television productions.
Isabel Wilkerson was awarded for championing the stories of an unsung history. She is the author of the award winning history, “The Warmth of Other Suns.”