Fresno Beehive

Hang on, Audra. The words that go with your big award from Obama are here. Somewhere ...

Roosevelt High School graduate Audra McDonald reached a career pinnacle Thursday. The same probably couldn’t be said for the military aide who momentarily lost the Broadway star’s citation for a National Medal of Arts.

President Barack Obama was poised to give the award in the historic East Room of the White House. Then this happened (quoting straight from the official transcript):

(Citation for Audra McDonald is misplaced.)

THE PRESIDENT: I can make up the citation. (Laughter.)

MILITARY AIDE: Let's do that. Let's do that, sir. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: You don't have it in there?


THE PRESIDENT: Here we go. (Laughter.)


(The citation is found.)

Audra McDonald. (Applause.) The 2015 National Medal of Arts for Audra McDonald for lighting up Broadway as one of its brightest stars. An unforgettable performer, she has won six Tony awards. In musicals, concerts, operas, and the recording studio, her rich, soulful voice continues to take her audiences to new heights. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Audra! (Laughter.)

McDonald, 46, stepped on to the East Room stage clearly very close to giving birth to her first child with husband Will Swenson. McDonald has a daughter, Zoe Madeline, 15, from her previous marriage; Swenson, 42, is father to two sons, Bridger, 15, and Sawyer, 12, from his previous marriage.

Later, Obama made light of the briefly missing citation, saying, “I’m glad that Audra is already a good friend of mine. So the fact that they kind of left out the citation, I think she’ll forgive me.”

Long-time McDonald fans including Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who recalls first seeing her perform in Fresno’s Good Company Players, joined the audience for the ceremony.

McDonald was among 12 National Medal of Arts winners honored Thursday. Others included actor Morgan Freeman, comic writer-director Mel Brooks, Motown music icon Berry Gordy and San Juan Bautista-based playwright Luis Valdez, who was honored for “bringing Chicano culture to American drama.”

Obama joked that Freeman, a no-show at the event, “undoubtedly is off playing a black president again. He never lets me have my moment.”

Described by the National Endowment for the Arts as “the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government,” the National Medal of Arts has been awarded since 1985, following passage of legislation to authorize the medals in 1984.

The National Council on the Arts, which is an advisory board for the NEA, reviews nominations made by the public and makes recommendations to the president, who has the final say. The National Council on the Arts’ members include San Joaquin Valley author and farmer David “Mas” Masumoto.

Bee staff contributed to this report. Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10