Amid the United States House of Representatives passing an article of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday, January 13th for inciting a violent and deadly riot at the US Capitol on January 6th, President Trump was at the White House awarding National Medal for the Arts to both Country Music Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs and Toby Keith, according to reports.
The news spread quickly, and put country music right in the middle of the political imbroglio. However, reports by Rolling Stone and other outlets that the awarding of the medal was a quote “reaction” to the impeachment are false. Instead, it was a preplanned ceremony orchestrated in advance that happened to coincide with the fast-moving impeachment vote, Saving Country Music can confirm.
On Thursday morning (1-14), Rolling Stone published a story with the headline, “Trumps Impeachment Reaction: Give Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs Medals.” According to the publicist for Ricky Skaggs, the 66-year-old was at the White House on Wednesday and did receive the National Medal for the Arts, but the bluegrass legend had been previously-scheduled to receive the award in 2020. The ceremony was rescheduled due to COVID-19, and Wednesday’s White House event had been in the works before the impeachment motion to make sure it was fulfilled before the end of the President’s term.
Saving Country Music also reached out to the publicist for Toby Keith who said they could not comment, but did say they had yet to see any official announcement or confirmation that Toby Keith had received the award, and could not confirm if Keith was at the White House on Wednesday, but would update with any new information if or when it was made available. The White House also has not released any information on the handing out of the medals, making it unlikely it was a ploy to distract from impeachment.
Nonetheless, with the acrimony hanging in the air amid the Capitol riots and impeachment, the awarding of the National Medal of the Arts to Ricky Skaggs, and potentially Toby Keith will sully the distinction for the two country stars in the minds of many. New England Patriots football coach Bill Belichick was offered the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump recently, but refused the medal due to the fallout after the Capitol attack.
Toby Keith has long been a lightning rod in country music and beyond, especially due to his hit “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American),” which was his answer to the 9/11 attacks. Though Keith is regularly portrayed as a reactionary conservative, he was a Democrat when the released the song, and remained so throughout much of the Obama Administration, before refusing any party affiliation. Keith performed at inauguration parties for both President Obama and President Trump.
Ricky Skaggs has been much less of a polarizing character in country music over his Hall of Fame career, collaborating with a wide host of artists from all across the political and cultural spectrum. In recent years, the mandolin player and singer has been more outspoken about his faith, and has voiced support for President Trump.
Previous presidents in the modern era would regularly award a dozen or so National Medal for the Arts per year. Loretta Lynn was a recipient of the award during the Obama Administration. But President Trump has handed out very few over his term. Bluegrass performer Alison Krauss also received a National Medal for the Arts from President Trump.
The distinction for Ricky Skaggs and Toby Keith comes as country music finds a strange footing in the final days of the Trump Administration. After the riots at the Capitol, Rolling Stone also published a report denouncing the wives of of country music stars Jason Aldean and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line for spreading false rumors via their Instagram accounts. Though the posts by these women were certainly alarming, the article seemed to be an effort to unfairly pin either responsibility, acceptance, or the spreading of false information about the Capitol attacks upon the greater country music community as opposed to isolated incidents by the spouses of country stars.
The awarding of the National Medal of the Arts to Ricky Skaggs and Toby Keith does not help the effort of many in the country music community who denounced the attacks to distance from the current political acrimony, and the conspiracy theorists and those continuing to spread false information about the recent United States Presidential election.
More information if or when it becomes available.