President Barack Obama on Monday named 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, including East Hampton’s Steven Spielberg and Shelter Island’s Itzhak Perlman.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, 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.
“From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” Obama said.
A three-time Academy Award winner, Spielberg is widely considered one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history, the White House notes. His films have grossed over $8.5 billion worldwide. Spielberg is the co-founder of DreamWorks Studios as well as the founder of the USC Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to overcoming intolerance and bigotry through the use of visual history testimony.
The American Film Institute gave Spielberg the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1995. In 2006, Spielberg received Kennedy Center Honors, presented by then-President George W. Bush for his lifetime of contributions to American culture. Then in 2009, former President Bill Clinton presented Spielberg with the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, which is awarded by the National Constitution Center to recognize leadership in the pursuit of freedom.
The White House called Perlman “a treasured conductor and sought-after teacher.” A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18. In addition to performing internationally and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Perlman has been the soloist for a number of film scores such as the Spielberg-directed Schindler’s List, which subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Alongside his wife, Toby, Perlman teaches talented young musicians through the Perlman Music Program. Through his advocacy and his example, he has been an important voice on behalf of persons with disabilities.
Perlman has 15 Grammy awards to his name, plus the 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He also has four Emmys. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan awarded the Tel Aviv-born Perlman the Medal of Liberty, which is reserved for distinguished naturalized citizens. The National Endowment for the Arts chose Perlman for the National Medal of Arts, presented by Clinton in 2000. In 2003, Bush presented Perlman with Kennedy Center Honors.
Also being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom are Yogi Berra, Bonnie Carroll, Shirley Chisholm, Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Billy Frank Jr., Lee Hamilton, Katherine G. Johnson, Willie Mays, Barbara Mikulski, William Ruckelshaus, Stephen Sondheim, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and Minoru Yasui.
The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24.