WASHINGTON (November 17, 2010) – Yo-Yo Ma will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it was announced Wednesday by the White House Office of the Press Secretary.
President Barack Obama name Yo-Yo Ma among fifteen recipients of the Medal of Freedom, and will receive the award at a White House ceremony early next year. The Medal of Freedom is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Yo-Yo Ma will be 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.
“These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place,” said President Obama. “I look forward to awarding them this honor.”
Yo-Yo Ma is considered the world’s greatest living cellist, recognized as a prodigy since the age of five whose celebrity transcends the world of classical music.
Born in Paris, Ma was a child prodigy who 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.
Sylvia Mendez, a civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent.
Former President George H. W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are being honored for public service and for disaster relief efforts.
Georgia Congressman John Lewis is being honored as an American hero of the Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
John H. Adams is an attorney being honored as a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Dr. Maya Angelou is being honored as an author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.
Warren Buffett is being honored as an investor, industrialist, and philanthropist.
Gerda Weissmann Klein, Jewish Holocaust survivor and author
Jasper Johns is being honored as a great American artist.
Dr. Tom Little will receive a posthumous honor. He was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan.
Dr. Little and his wife, Libby, lived and worked in Afghanistan for three decades beginning in 1976, raising three daughters and providing vision, dental and mother/child care to the people of that country through the NOOR program (Noor means “light” in Persian) that Dr. Little ran for the International Assistance Mission.
Two sports legends are being honored: Hall of Fame baseball great Stan Musial and former NBA great and rights activist Bill Russell.
Jean Kennedy Smith is the youngest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and is being honored as a disabilities worker who established programs for youth and adults to realize their true potential.
John J. Sweeney is the President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO and is being honored for a lifetime of work to benefit the labor movement.