AOL News has a new home! The Huffington Post.Click here to visit the new home of Politics Daily!
Music producer Quincy Jones, saxophone great Sonny Rollins, authors Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth, and musician James Taylor were among recipients of the 2010 National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal recognized by President Obama at the White House on Wednesday.
In a ceremony in the East Room, the president told the gathering of artists, poets, writers and dancers that their works "speak to our condition, and they affirm our desire for something more and something better."
In a nod to his own youth, Obama recalled those "whose books or poetry or works of history shaped me." Speaking particularly to honoree Philip Roth, he asked, "How many young people have learned to think by reading the exploits of Portnoy and his complaints?"
The president continued, singling out the work of jazz great Rollins: "I've got thumb-worn editions of these works of art and these old records -- where they were still vinyl, Sonny," he chuckled, "before they went digital -- that helped inspire me or get me through a tough day or take risks that I might not otherwise have taken."
Giving props to musicians Quincy Jones and James Taylor, Obama said they had helped countless Americans "set the mood," adding that, "we still hum the great songs by the musicians in this room -- songs that in many cases have been the soundtrack of our lives over decades."
Self-effacing -- as the president tends to be when matters of the heart are concerned -- he recalled "the poetry that we loved -- or at least the poetry that we might recite to a girlfriend to seem deep."
Personal anecdotes and jokes aside, the importance of the arts was not lost on the commander in chief, who ended his remarks by offering, "In a nation as big as ours, as diverse as ours, as full of debate and consternation as it sometimes is, what the people we honor here today remind us of is that kernel of ourselves that connects us to everyone else -- and allows us to get out of ourselves, to see through somebody else's eyes, to step in their shoes. And what more vital ingredient is there for our democracy than that?"
News From Our Partners
More on Aol
Sites and Services