Elton John teary-eyed as Biden surprises him with medal at concert

LONDON — British singer Elton John was left teary eyed and “flabbergasted” after being awarded a surprise national humanities medal by President Biden, following a concert at the White House on Friday night.

John, 75, who was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, has become a globally renowned singer, pianist and songwriter. He has also championed various charities and humanitarian causes, especially those tackling HIV/AIDS.

Flanked by the President and first lady, John, wearing his signature red-tinted spectacles, looked visibly shocked as he first spotted the medal, covering his face with his hands in disbelief.

“I’m never flabbergasted but I’m flabbergasted and humbled and honored by this incredible award from the United States of America,” he said, overcome, moments after clutching Jill Biden’s hand and hugging her husband. “I will treasure this so much.”

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The Grammy-award singer praised “America’s kindness to me as a musician,” calling it “second to none,” and vowed his new medal would push him to redouble his efforts to help eradiate the illness that impacts more than 38 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Biden, a big fan, described John as a “tidal wave,” quoting Irish poet Seamus Heaney, and praised his “incredible career.”

With the White House as his backdrop, John opened with “Your Song” followed by classic tracks: “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocketman,” “Crocodile Rock,” and closed with the jaunty “I’m Still Standing.”

The concert on the South Lawn, entitled “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” was part of his farewell tour, as the singer prepares to hang up his mic after a glittering 50-year career. It was also an event to honor “everyday history-makers in the audience,” according to the White House, among them teachers, military families and LGBT+ advocates.

John dedicated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to Ryan White and his mother Jeanne White-Ginder, who attended the concert. Her son lost his life to AIDS-related complications after a blood transfusion and died in 1990, just a month before his high school graduation.

The legendary singer launched the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, which has raised over $450 million so far and funded programs across four continents. In between songs, John spoke to the audience about his hope to help eradicate the virus by 2030.

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Among the estimated 2,000 guests at the musical event were former first lady Laura Bush, tennis champion Billie Jean King, British ambassador to the United States Karen Elizabeth Pierce, and John’s husband, David Furnish. Members of Biden’s administration including transport secretary Pete Buttigieg and defense secretary Lloyd Austin were also at the concert.

John has previously performed at the White House in 1998 alongside Stevie Wonder at a state dinner for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Other artists who have performed at the coveted venue include Patti LaBelle, opera star Andrea Bocelli and the Jonas Brothers.

He has sold more than 300 million records worldwide, according to his official website, and carried out more than 4,000 performances in over 80 countries.

He became Sir Elton John after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 and has been a close ally of Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, defending them in the press after the criticism they received for stepping back from senior royal duties. John reworked “Candle In The Wind” following the death of Harry’s mother in 1997, which went on to break records, selling over 33 million copies as people across the world mourned.

Earlier this week, John told fans while onstage in Canada that he was “very sad” to learn of the death of the queen, praising the late monarch’s decency and noting she had for decades “worked bloody hard.”

His medal from Biden will sit alongside his Legion d’Honneur given to him by French President Macron in 2019.

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