This afternoon (May 29), Bob Dylan was given the highest honor an American civilian can receive when President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The ceremony took place in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Dylan and the 12 other honorees were given the award because, as President Obama said, they have “moved us with their words; they have inspired us with their actions. They’ve enriched our lives and they’ve changed our lives for the better.” About Dylan, the President said:

Bob Dylan started out singing other people’s songs. But, as he says, ‘There came a point where I had to write what I wanted to say, because what I wanted to say, nobody else was writing.’  So born in Hibbing, Minnesota — a town, he says, where ‘you couldn’t be a rebel — it was too cold’ — Bob moved to New York at age 19. By the time he was 23, Bob’s voice, with its weight, its unique, gravelly power was redefining not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and how it made people feel. Today, everybody from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owes Bob a debt of gratitude. There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music. All these years later, he’s still chasing that sound, still searching for a little bit of truth.  And I have to say that I am a really big fan.

As Obama presented Dylan with the medal, a military aide said:

A modern-day troubadour, Bob Dylan established himself as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.  The rich poetry of his lyrics opened up new possibilities for popular song and inspired generations.  His melodies have brought ancient traditions into the modern age.  More than 50 years after his career began, Bob Dylan remains an eminent voice in our national conversation and around the world.

This is not the first time Dylan’s career has been recognized in Washington, D.C. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2009 by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997. Other honorees included astronaut John Glenn, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, author Toni Morrison and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.


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