Elton John Performs for White House, Gets Surprise Medal From President Biden

Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour made a detour at the White House Friday as the singer performed for a small audience that included President Joe Biden during an event billed as “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme.”

John, who is scheduled to bring his tour to Washington, D.C.’s Nationals Park on Saturday night, performed a cavalcade of his greatest hits on the White House South Lawn, including “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” “Your Song” and “I’m Still Standing.” The concert was produced in collaboration with A&E Networks and The History Channel; the two networks footed the bill for the event, the White House told CNN.

As Variety notes, President Biden surprised the singer by appearing onstage and presenting him with a National Humanities Medal for his work fighting the AIDS epidemic, with the outlet adding that John appeared “visibly shocked and humbled.”

“The President of the United States awards this National Humanities Medal to Sir Elton John for moving our souls with his powerful voice, one of the defining songbooks of all time,” the White House said (via Variety). “An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance a simple truth: that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

According to a press release, A Night When Hope and History Rhyme — an allusion to a Seamus Heaney poem — will “celebrate the unifying and healing power of music, commend the life and work of Sir Elton John, and honor the everyday history-makers in the audience, including teachers, nurses, frontline workers, mental health advocates, students, LGBTQ+ advocates and more.” John spoke about his longtime activism in the fight against AIDS, telling the crowd he hopes to eradicate the disease by 2030.

“It’s been emotional for me to be recognized for the achievements of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Since I founded the Foundation at my kitchen table in Atlanta 30 years ago, I made a commitment not to leave anyone behind and will continue on this mission,” John said in a statement. “We are striving for a future where people of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, and gender identities have the opportunity to live free from AIDS, stigma, injustice and maltreatment – and I’m so grateful recognition likes this brings us a step closer to making that a reality.” 

Additionally, in Biden’s memoir, the president wrote about how he used to listen to John’s music with his sons Hunter and Beau, CNN reports, and when the latter was hospitalized with brain cancer, Joe would sing him John’s music.

John previously visit the White House in 1998 when then-President Bill Clinton welcomed British Prime Minster Tony Blair.