Ricky Skaggs’ National Medal of Arts Award Came After a One-Year Delay, Due to Pandemic
Skaggs' representative confirms that the 66-year-old Country Music Hall of Fame artist was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 13, to accept the honor but also tells Taste of Country that the presentation was delayed one year due to COVID-19.
It's not clear if the same is true for Toby Keith — his representative has not responded to a request for comment, but a photo shared by Sean Spicer on Instagram shows Keith standing next to the president. The caption reveals that others also received the award: Opera star Mary Costa, National Gallery of Art director Earl Powerl and photojournalist Nick Ut also received the honor.
Typically presidents award as many as 10 or 12 Medal of Arts each year, but until 2019, President Trump had awarded just four in total, including one to Alison Krauss.
This 2021 ceremony is notable, as it appears to have happened as impeachment proceedings were taking place in the House of Representatives (per NBC News and Bloomber News). A narrative had formed on social media suggesting that President Trump may have timed the ceremony to deflect attention from the impeachment, or that he'd hand-chosen these singers to further target a certain group of his supporters as he plans his next step once he's out of office. That it was simply a delay from 2020 suggests it was on his the calendar for some time.
Keith played Trump's inauguration in 2017, but largely stays out of political conversations, although he has previously identified as a Democrat. Skaggs is a staunch conservative, especially on issues like abortion. He gave President Trump a ringing endorsement prior to the 2016 election, saying he doesn't think Trump is a saint, but at the time felt he'd uphold Godly principles.
"I love his enthusiasm and his fighting spirit," he told the Gospel Herald at the time. "He's not going to let anyone bulldoze over him because he's a bulldozer himself. Mr. Trump is someone who tears down and rebuilds ... I believe Donald Trump is the right person in the right place, and that it's prophetic."
Neither singer has said anything about the ceremony on social media, although several country singers have congratulated them.