Speed Reads


Biden surprises Elton John with National Humanities Medal after White House concert

Elton John made a detour on his long farewell tour, playing an outdoor concert at the White House on Friday night as part of President Biden's "everyday history makers" event. "On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people," Biden told the crowd of some 2,000 people on the South Lawn. "Like many Americans, our family loves his music."

The event also included tennis legend Billie Jean King, Malala Yousafzai, and Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of the late AIDS activist Ryan White. First lady Jill Biden noted that former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were in the audience, and she "introduced her husband as an Elton John fan and the president of the United States, in that order," The New York Times reports.

Biden is a genuine fan, but "for anyone who was listening, Elton John's music was the unofficial soundtrack to Donald J. Trump's presidency," the Times notes, addressing one big elephant not in the room. "The songs 'Tiny Dancer' and 'Rocket Man' were pumped into the background of his political rallies at earsplitting decibels. A copy of Mr. John's 1972 album, Honky Château, became a diplomatic gift for North Korea's dictator." John, for his part, politely declined to play at his 2017 inauguration and was among the long list of celebrities not to play at the Trump White House.

After Elton John "finished playing a set that included 'Tiny Dancer' and 'Rocket Man,' the president announced that he would award the singer the National Humanities Medal, which is meant to honor people or groups whose work deepens American access to cultural experiences in fields including the performing arts," the Times adds. John, caught by surprise, teared up and announced himself "flabbergasted" by the honor. 

"Given that the White House was trying to spotlight a variety of causes taken up by the Biden administration, several people involved with the planning insist that nothing about the event had anything to do with the fact that Mr. Biden's predecessor really, really likes Elton John," the Times reports. "They say that the singer was simply interested in performing at the White House. (And, they wonder, does everything have to be about Trump?)"