President Barack Obama honored San Francisco-based singer, songwriter and activist Linda Ronstadt and Oakland-based writer Maxine Hong Kingston with the 2013 National Medal of Arts Monday, White House officials said.
The two appeared at a ceremony with the president and First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House East Room. Ronstadt got a hug from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, as she walked into the room, according to the White House.
In announcing the medal, Obama praised Ronstadt’s “one-of-a-kind voice” and “her decades of remarkable music.”
Ronstadt released 29 albums and 63 singles between 1967 and her retirement in 2011. In recent years, Parkinson’s disease has left her unable to sing.
President Obama said today: “Drawing from a broad range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for generations of women artists.”
Obama joked later that he:
“… had a little crush on her (Ronstadt) back in the day.”
Kingston, author of “The Woman Warrior” and “China Men,” is a Professor Emerita at the University of California at Berkeley, where she also graduated in 1962.
“Her novels and non-fiction have examined how the past influences our present, and her voice has strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender and race.”
Kingston was born to first generation Chinese immigrants in Stockton in 1940 and previously was awarded the 1997 National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton.
She was arrested at a protest organized by the anti-war women’s group Code Pink in Washington, D.C., in 2003 and shared a jail cell with fellow writers Alice Walker and Terry Tempest Williams.
Obama said later that one of Kingston’s books was an inspiration to him as a writer:
“I was mentioning to Maxine that when I was first writing my first book and trying to teach myself how to write, ‘The Woman Warrior’ was one of the books I read. … The moments you help create — moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow — they add texture to our lives.”
Obama said to this year’s 12 award recipients:
“They are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it — they are essential to it.”