José Feliciano is officially a medalist…
Following a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 77-year-old Puerto Rican musician, singer and composer has finally received his 2021 National Medal of Arts prize.
President Joe Biden doled out medals to the National Medal of Arts recipients, as well as the 2021 National Humanities Medal honorees.
The White House hosted a livestreamed East Room ceremony on Tuesday for the recipients, who included Mindy Kaling, Gladys Knight, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bruce Springsteen and fashion designer Vera Wang. Feliciano was unable to attend the event as he’s in Hawaii after performances on the West Coast.
Feliciano was born blind as a result of glaucoma. His family moved to New York City’s Spanish Harlem when he was five years old, and he fell in love with music and playing the accordion and the guitar. While in high school, he played as a regular at a Greenwich Village coffeehouse. He eventually dropped out of high school and moved to Detroit to take a more permanent singing gig, and soon after was signed with RCA Records. He is most known for his bilingual Christmas song, “Feliz Navidad” which has been named among the most popular holiday songs of all time.
According to Billboard, Feliciano has two top-10 hits in his career and 11 top-100 songs. Feliciano is also a seven-time Grammy award winner.
The NEA website writes the decision to honor Feliciano came from his tenure in the music industry, saying “Over 60 years, 60 albums, and 600 songs, Jose Feliciano has opened hearts and built bridges — overcoming obstacles, never losing faith, and enriching the goodness and greatness of the Nation.”
The honorees received their awards about two years late due to a backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
First lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also attended the ceremony, which Biden opened with a speech filled with quips about the honorees.
The recipients of the National Medals of Arts – the highest honor from the United States government for advancing the country’s arts – include actors, comedians and singers. Other recipients were artist-activist Judith Francisca Baca, philanthropist Fred Eychaner, Puerto Rican painter Antonio Martorell-Cardona and film producer Joan Shigekawa.
The Billie Holiday Theatre and The International Association of Blacks in Dance also received medals.
The National Humanities Medal honors those who have improved Americans’ understanding and engagement with history, literature, philosophy and more humanities subjects.
The 2021 recipients are poet Richard Blanco, anthropologist Johnnetta Betsch Cole, author Walter Isaacson, social historian Earl Lewis, Native American studies academic Henrietta Mann, novelist Ann Patchett, activist Bryan Stevenson, novelist Amy Tan, memoirist Tara Westover and novelist Colson Whitehead, as well as the organization Native America Calling.