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Jasper Johns, Yo-Yo Ma to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama

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The White House announced Wednesday that President Obama will bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the country’s highest civilian honor -- on 15 individuals, including artist Jasper Johns and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The awards, which will be presented in early 2011, are intended to honor individuals who have made ‘especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.’

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In a statement, Obama said this year’s honorees have ‘lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place.’

Johns, 80, has long been associated with the abstract expressionist movement and is best known for his paintings depicting American flags and bullseye targets. In 1990, he received the National Medal of Arts, which is the highest national honor an artist can receive.

Regarded as one of the top cellists in the world, Ma has performed as a soloist with most major symphony orchestras and has won multiple Grammy Awards for his recordings. In 2009, Obama selected Ma to serve on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

The two artists will share the spotlight with an eclectic group of honorees that includes former president George H.W. Bush, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Maya Angelou, Warren Buffett, Jean Kennedy Smith, Dr. Tom Little, Congressman John Lewis, environmental activist John H. Adams, former AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, humanitarian Gerda Weissmann Klein, civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, basketball coach Bill Russell and baseball legend Stan ‘The Man’ Musial.

-- David Ng

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