Elton John felt the love Friday night as he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Biden during a concert on the White House lawn.
John, 75, played a six-song set for Biden and two thousand others to honor everyday “heroes” like teachers, medical workers and AIDS activists. The tables were turned on the British rocker when the president bestowed the surprise honor on him.
“I don’t know what to say. … I don’t know how to take a compliment very well but it’s wonderful to be here amongst so many people who have helped my AIDS foundation and my heroes, the ones that work day to day on the front line,” John said, seemingly overcome with emotion.
The “Your Song” singer also noted that the stage in front of the White House under a large open-air tent was “the icing on the cake.”
The concert, dubbed “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” was put on by A&E Networks, which will air it at an undisclosed future date.
During his set, John thanked audience member Laura Bush for the international AIDS relief initiative spearheaded by her and President George W. Bush.
The legendary singer-songwriter also dedicated a song to late teenager Ryan White and his mother Jeanne White-Ginder, who he said had helped him become an AIDS advocate and quit drinking and doing drugs. White died of the disease in 1990.
“I wouldn’t be here talking tonight,” he said, before playing “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” for White-Ginder, who was on hand. “They saved my life.”
John hadn’t played at the White House since a 1998 state dinner for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
He had performed at Donald Trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania Trump, but declined an invitation from the former president to play his 2016 inauguration, saying he didn’t think it would be an appropriate gig for an Englishman.
Despite being brushed off by John, the former president appropriated the title of his song “Rocket Man” as a nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, whom he met three times.
And Trump famously reacted to the 2020 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg under the wing of Air Force One while “Tiny Dancer” played in the background.
John played both “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer” Friday night to resounding applause, as the Biden administration said the show was not scheduled as a slight to his predecessor.
Biden, 79, wrote in his 2017 memoir that he used to sing “Crocodile Rock”while driving his sons to school, and later sang the 1972 hit to Beau Biden before he died of cancer in 2015.
“I started singing the lyrics to Beau, quietly, so just the two of us could hear it,” Biden wrote. “Beau didn’t open his eyes, but I could see through my own tears that he was smiling.”
John sang the song Friday night and even invited Biden to join him after learning about how much it meant to him. The president declined.
“I can’t imagine him singin’ it,” John joked.
With Post wires