Photo: Anna Moneymaker / Staff via Getty Images
  /  03.22.2023

Gladys Knight has been serenading fans for decades with her angelic voice and timeless hit songs. Yesterday (March 21), the “Midnight Train to Georgia” crooner received a rare honor in recognition of her work: The National Medal of Arts. 

Presidents have awarded the honor to creatives across all mediums since 1985. But, the ceremony on Tuesday marked the first time Joe Biden has done so in his presidency. Knight was among the 2021 honorees, but the past two years’ celebrations have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

“We’re a nation, a great nation, in large part because of the power of the arts and humanities. That’s stamped into the DNA of America,” Biden said during the proceedings at the White House, per CNN. “Today… [we] continue the legacy of awarding two of our nation’s highest honors [the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal] to 23 extraordinary Americans.” In addition to Knight, other performers like Bruce Springsteen and “Feliz Navidad” singer José Feliciano received the Arts medal, as well as designer Vera Wang and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus. 

The gathered crowd cheered for Knight as her name was called to approach the president and receive her recognition. The seven-time Grammy Award winner wore a pink suit as she greeted Biden on stage. See the touching moment below. 

“For her iconic voice as the Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight’s exceptional talent influenced musical genres from rhythm and blues to gospel to pop and inspired generations of artists captivated by her soundtrack of a golden age in American music,” the emcee introducing her declared. The audience erupted in applause as Biden put the medal around her head. 

It’s the latest acknowledgment of Knight’s artistry that dates back to the 1950s. In December 2022, she was among those recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors. For her, ​​it was a momentous occasion that spoke to how far she’s come.

“You could never have told me as a young girl starting my career that I would be honored on a stage such as this with artists and humanitarians such as these — it just wouldn’t have seemed possible,” the Verzuz star said at the time, per Vibe. “It would have been the dream of all dreams. I have been blessed with so much in my life, and this certainly stands with those achievements at the top of that list.”

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