Flanked by the president and first lady, John, wearing his red-tinted glasses, looked visibly shocked when he first spotted the medal, covering his face with his hands in disbelief.
“I am never flabbergasted, but I am flabbergasted, humbled and honored by this incredible award from the United States of America,” he said. said, overwhelmed, moments after shaking hands with Jill Biden and hugging her husband. “I will cherish this so much.”
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The Grammy-winning singer praised ‘America’s kindness to me as a musician’, calling it ‘unparalleled’, and vowed his new medal would inspire him to redouble his efforts to help eradicate the disease which affects more than 38 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Biden, a huge fan, described John as a “tidal wave”, quoting Irish poet Seamus Heaney, and hailed his “incredible career”.
With the White House as a backdrop, John opened with “Your Song”, followed by classic tracks: “Tiny Dancer”, “Rocketman”, “Crocodile Rock” and closed with the upbeat “I’m Still Standing”. .
The South Lawn gig, titled ‘A Night When Hope and History Rhyme’, was part of his farewell tour, as the singer prepares to hang up his mic after a glittering 50-year career. It was also an event to honor “everyday history makers in the public,” according to the White House, including teachers, military families and LGBT+ advocates.
John dedicated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to Ryan White and his mother Jeanne White-Ginder, who attended the concert. Her son lost his life due to AIDS-related complications after a blood transfusion and died in 1990, just a month before he graduated from high school.
The legendary singer launched the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, which has already raised over $450 million and funded programs on four continents. Between songs, John spoke to the audience about his hope to help eradicate the virus by 2030.
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Among the approximately 2,000 guests at the musical event were former First Lady Laura Bush, tennis champion Billie Jean King, British Ambassador to the United States Karen Elizabeth Pierce and John’s husband David Furnish. Members of Biden’s administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, were also at the concert.
John previously performed at the White House in 1998 alongside Stevie Wonder at a state dinner for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Other artists who have performed at this coveted venue include Patti LaBelle, opera star Andrea Bocelli and the Jonas Brothers.
He has sold over 300 million records worldwide, according to his official website, and given more than 4,000 performances in over 80 countries.
He became Sir Elton John after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 and was a close ally of Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, defending them in the press after the criticism they received for being be removed from their senior royal duties. John reworked ‘Candle In The Wind’ after the death of Harry’s mother in 1997, which broke records, selling over 33 million copies as people around the world mourned.
Earlier this week, John told fans while on stage in Canada that he was “very sad” to hear of the Queen’s death, praising the decency of the late monarch and noting that she had during decades “worked very hard”.
His medal from Biden will sit alongside his Legion of Honor presented to him by French President Macron in 2019.