President Biden surprised Elton John by bestowing him with the National Humanities Medal during a concert at the White House on Friday.
The South Lawn performance was part of A&E Networks and The History Channel’s “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” an event celebrating “everyday heroes” like nurses, teachers, and activists. John performed hits like “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man” at the event, but the artist, who created the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1991, seemed genuinely shocked when President Biden honored his activism instead of just enjoying his music.
“Tonight is my great honor, and I mean this sincerely, to present the National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John,” Biden said, as John, mouth agape and wiping tears from his eyes, clutched his piano. A White House officer expanded on the award, calling John “An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance a simple truth: that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
“I’m flabbergasted and humbled and honored by this incredible award from the United States of America,” John said. “I will treasure this so much, and it will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away. Your kindness, America’s kindness to me as a musician is second to none, but in the war against AIDS and HIV, it’s even bigger.”
John made a point at the White House event to reference bipartisan efforts to eradicate AIDS. Earlier in the night, he shouted out George W. Bush, who was not in attendance, for the PEPFAR bill, which combatted the disease in Africa. Following John’s remarks, President Biden noted that $6 billion would go to the cause this month.
Watch John receive the National Humanities Medal below. The Rocketman, who recently worked with Britney Spears for the Song of the Week “Tiny Dancer” remix “Hold Me Closer,” is in the midst of his lengthy “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.” Tickets to his final shows are on sale here.