President Clinton has selected Aretha Franklin, one of the most popular singers of his generation; Norman Lear, the television producer who helped define the edgy television sitcom; and postmodern architect Michael Graves, who has enclosed the Washington Monument in a shimmering blue-tinged slipcover, as three of the recipients of this year's National Medal of Arts.
In addition, the president announced yesterday that Steven Spielberg, the enormously successful filmmaker; writer Garrison Keillor, who revived storytelling on the radio; and playwright August Wilson, whose telescopic dramas chronicle the black experience in America, will receive this year's National Humanities Medals.
The arts and humanities medals--the highest recognition given by the government in these fields--are scheduled to be given next Thursday at the White House. Recommendations for the awards are submitted by the National Council on the Arts and the National Council on the Humanities, though the president makes the final selection.
"This year's recipients of the 1999 National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal stand at the pinnacle of American artistic and academic achievement," said President Clinton in a statement. "Through their ideas, their scholarship and their works of art, they have opened all our eyes to the richness and the miracle of the human experience."
The arts roster also includes Irene Diamond, a philanthropist whose family has given $73 million to the arts and who early in her career was a talent scout who spotted Burt Lancaster and Robert Redford; Odetta, the folk musician who influenced Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin and worked tirelessly in the civil rights movement; sculptor George Segal, whose lifelike emotional sculptures are part of the tableau at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial; and Rosetta LeNoire, an actress and theater director who appeared in the TV sitcom "Family Matters." She has also been an advocate of nontraditional casting, the practice of placing minority actors in roles traditionally played by whites.
Also slated to be honored are singer Lydia Mendoza, who has championed Latino folk performers; dancer Maria Tallchief, who brought George Balanchine's "Firebird" and the Sugar Plum Fairy from "The Nutcracker" to life; and Harvey Lichtenstein, former president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Juilliard School, the country's leading school of the performing arts.
The humanities medals are also going to librarian Patricia M. Battin, who has led the campaign to microfilm deteriorating books; Taylor Branch, the prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King Jr.; Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, founder of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Jim Lehrer, the anchor of "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and a novelist and playwright; and John Rawls, the leading political philosopher and author of "Political Liberalism."