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Updated 10:00 AM November 13, 2006
 

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Composer Bolcom receives National Medal of Arts at White House

U-M composer William Bolcom was honored with the National Medal of Arts for his "significant and enduring contributions to the nation's cultural life" at a White House ceremony Nov. 9.
(Photo by Peter Smith)

Bolcom is one of 10 Americans who received the nation's highest public artistic honor, given annually to those who have demonstrated a lifetime of creative excellence, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which oversees the selection of the recipients.

"It's a privilege and deep honor to be considered alongside many artists whose work I admire and who've contributed greatly to American culture," says Bolcom, who received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for "12 New Etudes for Piano" and three Grammy Awards in 2006 for his composition of "Songs of Innocence and Experience," inspired by the writings of English poet William Blake.

Since its inception in 1984, more than 200 artists and arts patrons have received the National Medal of Arts. This year, Bolcom and nine others were selected from hundreds of nominations considered by the National Council on the Arts, which is managed by the NEA.

Throughout his career, Bolcom, a pianist, has attracted critical acclaim for the performance and recording of his work. He and his collaborator and wife, Joan Morris, have recorded 20 albums, specializing in show tunes, cabaret and popular songs from the early 20th century. He has received two Guggenheims, four Rockefeller Foundation awards and four NEA fellowships. Since the fall of 1994, Bolcom has held the title of Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition at U-M. He joined the faculty in 1973.

"We are delighted and proud of this most significant recognition of Bill Bolcom," says Christopher Kendall, dean of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance. "Our composition department is widely regarded as the best in the country, and such a claim could not be made without Bill's tremendous impact on our school. He is the consummate artist-teacher."

The National Medal of Arts was presented by President George W. Bush and Laura Bush in the Oval Office. Joining them were NEA Chairman Dana Gioia and Bruce Cole, chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to the medal of arts presentation, 10 awards were given to recipients of the National Humanities Medal.

Along with Bolcom, recipients of this year's National Medal of Arts include dancer Cyd Charisse, photographer Roy DeCarava, arts patron Wilhelmina Holladay, conductor Erich Kunzel, literary translator Gregory Rabassa, industrial designer/sculptor Viktor Schreckengost, bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley, the Interlochen Center for the Arts and New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

"Whether by translating the masterpieces of Latin American literature or bringing genius to the design of everyday objects or simply preserving the great musical heritage of New Orleans, the work (of the recipients) has enriched our national culture," Gioia says.

Past National Medal of Arts recipients with U-M ties include two alumnae, playwright Arthur Miller and actor James Earl Jones.

"With the National Medal of Arts award, Bill Bolcom joins a Who's Who list of American artists," says President Mary Sue Coleman. "While working on his compositions and performances that have distinguished him as being among the top echelon of international artists, Bill continues to inspire students, teaching them about the vital connection between art and bringing joy to audiences."

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