Friday, December 15, 2006

Blues and Recognition in the White House

The Medal of Freedom is the highest award the U.S. government bestows on private citizens. Tonight, as the NY Sun reports, President Bush will award the Medal of Freedom to a largely impressive field of ten individuals, including former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, the great British historian Paul Johnson, and America’s preeminent Bluesman, B. B. King.

Pres. Bush’s predecessor often made a nauseating show of being a jazz fan. Yet when he had an opportunity to give show some recognition, the future disbarred attorney didn’t show the music any love (his list of recipients is here).

In fact, every jazz artist receiving the Medal of Freedom received it from a Republican president. In a famous ceremony filmed by the USIA and later screened at a Soviet music film festival, Nixon bestowed the Medal of Freedom upon Duke Ellington during a White House party for Duke’s 70th birthday. It would be the beginning of an important friendship between the two men.

Ronald Reagan would award the Medal of Freedom to Eubie Blake, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, and Mabel Mercer. George H. W. Bush honored Ella Fitzgerald. Pres. George W. Bush has previously awarded the Medal of Freedom to Bill Cosby, a prominent jazz advocate and sometime producer of jazz sessions. Tonight he will also posthumously award the Medal to Buck O’Neil, who in addition to his baseball achievements was also a commentator for Ken Burns’ Jazz.

When it comes to recognizing jazz greats, Democrats haven't come through. Republicans have.