Stevie Wonder, Meryl Streep to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Tom Brokaw and composer Stephen Sondheim are also among the 19 people on whom President Obama will bestow the highest civilian honor in the US at a White House ceremony Nov. 24.

Jim Ross/Invision/AP/File
In this June 29, 2014 file photo, Stevie Wonder performs at the Calling festival, in London. President Obama will award Wonder and 18 others the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 24

Stevie Wonder and Meryl Streep are no stranger to awards ceremonies.

The Motown legend has won 22 Grammys, an Oscar, and a Kennedy Center Award for his blend of reggae, blues, soul and rock. For her part, Ms. Streep has received the most Oscar nominations of any American actor: 18, winning three times. She also has won eight Golden Globes, two Emmys, two BAFTAs, and a Kennedy Center Award.

Now, both icons need to clear a little space on the mantel for a new award: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The actress and singer-songwriter are among the 19 people President Obama will bestow with the highest civilian honor on Nov. 24 at the White House.

Mr. Obama announced this year’s recipients from Beijing on Tuesday, where he is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.

Obama has been a long-time admirer of Mr. Wonder, whom the White House called “one of the world’s most gifted singer-songwriters” in a press release announcing the medalists.

"If I had one musical hero, it would have to be Stevie Wonder," Obama told Rolling Stone magazine about the “Songs in the Key of Life” songwriter in 2008, when he was still candidate Obama.

Composer Stephen Sondheim, perhaps best known for the musicals “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods,” is also one of this year’s honorees. (In a bit of serendipity, Streep is starring this Christmas in the film adaptation of “Woods,” Sondheim’s look at what happens after the happy ever after in fairy tales.)

The awards recognize "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." President Truman first established the Medal of Freedom in 1945 to honor civilian achievements during World War II. It was revived and its scope was expanded by President Kennedy in 1963.

This year's recipients include former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw; Ethel Kennedy; actress Marlo Thomas; author Isabel Allende; golfer Charles Sifford, who helped desegregate the PGA; scientist Mildred Dresselhaus; and retiring Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan, the longest serving congressman in US history.

Five medals will be awarded posthumously, including to choreographer Alvin Ailey, founder of the dance company that bears his name. In addition, three slain civil rights workers ­– James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were killed during Mississippi’s Freedom Summer in 1964 ­– will be honored.

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