Washington, D.C. (February 15, 2011) – The White House Office of the Press Secretary released the remarks of President Barack Obama on the occasion of honoring the recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom in an East Room ceremony. Among the honorees was Yo-Yo Ma, considered the world’s greatest living cellist, recognized as a prodigy since the age of five whose celebrity transcends the world of classical music.
Yo-Yo Ma was honored with Sylvia Mendez, President George H. W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. Congressman John Lewis, John H. Adams, Maya Angelou, Warren Buffett, Jasper Johns, Gerda Weissmann Klein, Dr. Tom Little, Stan Musial, Bill Russell, Jean Kennedy Smith, and John J. Sweeney.
“President Kennedy once said, during a tribute to the poet Robert Frost, that a nation reveals itself not only by the men and women it produces, but by the men and women that it honors; the people that it remembers,” said Obama. “I heartily agree. When you look at the men and women who are here today, it says something about who we are as a people.”
President Obama briefly reiterated Yo-Yo Ma’s career, as a concert cellist since the age of five, who went on to record over 75 albums and win 16 Grammys.
“While Yo-Yo could have just settled for being the world’s greatest cellist, he’s said that even greater than his passion for music is his passion for people. And I can testify to this,” said Obama.
The military aid recited the award to Yo-Yo Ma as the Medal of Freedom was presented by the President. It read, “Recognized as one of the world’s greatest musicians, Yo-Yo Ma’s talents know no boundaries of genre or culture. Since performing at the White House for President Kennedy at the age of seven, he has recorded more than 75 albums, won more than a dozen Grammy awards and established himself as one of our nation’s most acclaimed and respected artists. His music has bound us together and captured our imagination, and the United States proudly honors this prolific cellist and ambassador for the arts.”
Born in Paris in 1955, Ma moved to New York with his family in 1960, where it was discovered that he was a child prodigy and went on to study with Leonard Rose in New York. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at age nine.
Ma was the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize in 1978, and, in 1991, Harvard awarded him an honorary doctorate in music. He serves as Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project, and has won sixteen Grammy awards.
Ma is known especially for his interpretations of Bach and Beethoven, and for his ability to play many different styles of music, including tango and bluegrass. He serves on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
“There are few people you’ll meet with just the exuberance and joy that Yo-Yo possesses,” Obama said. “And so he’s spent much of his life traveling the world, training and mentoring thousands of students, from Lebanon and Korea to the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. A member of my Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, he has been named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations, and we understand why. In his words, ‘When we enlarge our view of the world, we deepen our understanding of our own lives’.”