Linda Ronstadt, Bill T. Jones to receive National Medal of Arts

Linda Ronstadt at a 2013 speaking engagement in Santa Monica. President Obama will present her with the nation's highest arts honor, the National Medal of Arts.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A diverse roster of big names in the arts, literature and entertainment – including Linda Ronstadt, dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones, author Maxine Hong Kingston, Broadway composer John Kander and L.A.-nurtured visual artist James Turrell -- will receive the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.

The winners of the award, the nation’s top honor in the arts, were announced Tuesday along with generally less-famous winners of the National Humanities Medal, which recognizes career achievement in scholarship, cultural commentary, filmmaking and historic preservation.

The president will confer the medals -- which technically are the selections for 2013 -- in a ceremony Monday at the White House.

Literary critic M.H. Abrams, whose 102nd birthday is Wednesday, may be the most widely recognized of the humanities medal recipients. Untold numbers of college lit students have cracked open the Norton Anthology of English Literature, a bulky tome that Abrams edited for decades starting in 1962.


Film mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks, will get a Medal of Arts “for lighting up our screens and opening our hearts” and for his embrace of new film technologies, according to a citation issued by the National Endowment of the Arts.

The arts medalist who may be most deeply and broadly steeped in the arts is documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who has spent countless hours shooting and editing footage of other artists, including the Beatles, Jessye Norman, Vladimir Horowitz, Truman Capote, Christo and Orson Welles.

Maysles’ best-known film is probably “Gimme Shelter,” in which he and his brother, the late David Maysles, and co-director Charlotte Zwerin documented the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour that ended with an infamous stage-front fatal stabbing at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco. The filmmakers memorably captured Mick Jagger reacting as he later watched footage of the killing on an editing machine.

“By capturing raw emotions and representations, his work reflects the unfiltered truths of our shared humanity,” Maysles’ medal citation said.


Other medalists include novelist and poet Julia Alvarez, Chicago arts patron Joan Harris and the husband and wife architecture team of Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, whose acclaimed American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan became a cause celebre when the neighboring Museum of Modern Art bought the building and last year announced it could not be incorporated in MoMA’s expansion plans and would be torn down.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) will be honored as an institution for having “showcased the works of both established visionaries and emerging artists who take risks and push boundaries.”

An architect and a filmmaker also are among the ten Humanities medalists. Native American architect Johnpaul Jones was part of the design team for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson has won Emmy awards for “Freedom Riders” (2011) and “The Murder of Emmett Till” (2003).

Ronstadt, who revealed last year that she could no longer sing because of Parkinson’s disease, was cited for “her one-of-a-kind voice … broad range of influences” and a body of work that helped “pave the way for generations of women artists.”


Bill T. Jones, who will add his Medal of Arts to a 1994 MacArthur “genius” grant, 2010 Kennedy Center Honors recognition, and Tony Awards for choreographing the Broadway musicals “Spring Awakening” and “Fela!,” was cited for “works that challenge us to confront tough subjects and inspire us to greater heights.”

Turrell, a Los Angeles native who studied at UC Irvine, Pomona College and Claremont Graduate School and now lives in Flagstaff, Ariz., helped lead the Southern California-centered Light and Space Movement. His work was featured recently in a major career retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The medal citation praised Turrell for “capturing the powers of light and space” in a way that “builds experiences that force us to question reality, challenging our perceptions not only of art, but … of the world around us.”

Kingston, whose books include “The Woman Warrior” and “China Men,” was cited for writing with a voice that “has strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender and race.”

Broadway composer Kander wrote the songs for “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” teaming with his lyricist partner, the late Fred Ebb. Kander was hailed for “songs that evoke romanticism and wonder and capture moral dilemmas that persist across generations.”


The medals ceremony Monday in the East Room of the White House will be streamed live on the White House website starting at noon Pacific Time.

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