Obama awards arts medals to Mel Brooks, Audra McDonald, Berry Gordy

Thu Sep 22, 2016 4:02pm EDT
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama awarded 24 American giants of the arts and humanities with medals on Thursday, lauding their accomplishments - and sharing some laughs.

Comedian Mel Brooks, who Obama has said he admires for his over-the-top Western satire "Blazing Saddles," looked as if were dropping down to receive a knighthood after a citation for "a lifetime of making the world laugh." In fact, Brooks, 90, was miming that he was pulling down Obama's pants.

Obama laughed, shook Brooks' hand, and warned that he would catch him if he tried to sell his National Medal of Arts on eBay.

Obama also joked with Broadway star Audra McDonald, whose citation was misplaced, and admired the spiked sneakers of poet Louise Glück.

"I do think Mel Brooks kind of set the tone for this thing," Obama said afterward. "Historically, this has been a much more staid affair."

Also among the honorees: Motown producer Berry Gordy and composer Philip Glass as well as authors Sandra Cisneros, Ron Chernow, Rudolfo Anaya and James McBride.

"We believe that the arts and the humanities are in many ways reflective of our national soul. They're central to who we are as Americans: dreamers and storytellers and innovators and visionaries," Obama said.

"They're what help us make sense of the past - the good and the bad - and how we chart a course for the future," he said.   Continued...

Comedian, actor, director Mel Brooks (C) enters the East Room to receive his 2015 National Medal of Arts from U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 22, 2016.          REUTERS/Gary Cameron