President Barack Obama announced this afternoon that he plans to award 13 people National Medals of Freedom at a ceremony later this spring. The Medal of Freedom is “the Nation’s highest civilian honor,” a statement from the White House reads, “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.”
Among those 13 recipients will be Minnesota native Bob Dylan, who recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first album and has remained incredibly prolific and influential throughout his career. He is the only musician on the list — which also includes the first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, astronaut John Glenn, Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, and novelist Toni Morrison — and was chosen for his music’s ongoing influence on politics and culture. “Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades,” a statement says. Read more about the awards and recipients via the White House.
Over on NPR, writer Brian Naylor suggests that the award is due to songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the most covered of any Dylan song and one that “still asks the hard questions” all these years after it was written. It was famously covered by Peter, Paul & Mary, and also appeared on Dylan’s 1963 release The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
My most vivid memory of that song is actually from the night when Obama won the 2008 election. Dylan was in town to perform at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium, and took a moment to acknowledge Obama’s victory before playing “Blowin’ in the Wind.” “I was born in 1941,” he said, in a moment of uncharacteristically direct and personal banter. “That was the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve been living in darkness ever since. It looks like things are going to change now.”