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Stevie Wonder Among 19 Artists to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 12.22.24 PMNineteen artists, activists and lawmakers received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama yesterday, including music legend Stevie Wonder and Meryl Streep, Tom Brokaw and Ethel Kennedy.

“This is one of my favorite events,” Obama said from the East Room. “Once a year, we set aside this event to celebrate people who have made America stronger and wiser and more humane and more beautiful with our highest civilian honor.”

The president gave a speech paying tribute to some of his favorites. He expressed his love for Streep’s films, and recounted how a Stevie Wonder album was the first album he ever bought with his own money when he was ten. He said Stevie’s songs boosted their mood while on the campaign trail.

“I have said publicly, I love Meryl Streep,” the President said. “I love her. Her husband knows I love her, Michelle knows I love her. There’s nothing nothing either of them can do about it. She inhabits her characters so fully and compassionately, saying it is the greatest gift of human beings that we have this power of empathy. And off the screen as an advocate for women and girls, she uses that gift to help others write the stories of their choosing and to encourage greater empathy in the rest of us. She is truly one of America’s leading ladies.”

He went on to describe his long standing relationship with Wonder’s music.

“Early copies of Stevie wonder’s classic album, ‘Talking Book, had a simple message written in braille: ‘Here is my music, it is all I have to tell you how I feel, know that your love keeps my love strong.’ This is by the way the first album I ever bought with my own money. I was ten years old, maybe 11. A musical prodigy with an electrifying voice, Stevie’s blend of R&B and jazz and funk and blues and soul and whatever else you got speaks of love and loss, justice and equality, war and peace.”

But, what the President really admires about Mr. Wonder isn’t his voice.

“But what really defines Stevie’s music is the warmth and humanity that resonates in every note,” Obama said. “Some of the songs helped us to fall in love on the others mended our hearts – and motivated some of us on the campaign trail. And thanks to Stevie all of us have been moved to ‘Higher Ground.'”

Six people received posthumous medals, among them civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were killed in 1964 as they participated in a historic voter registration drive in Mississippi, choreographer Alvin Ailey and Reps. Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Edward Roybal of California, founders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

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