Skip to main content
R&B on the National Stage

Rhythm and blues is identified internationally as a signature music of the United States, and in recent decades, several prestigious national awards have recognized rhythm and blues artists for their contributions to America’s cultural heritage.

The National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to artists by the United States government, has been awarded to artists Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and William “Smokey” Robinson. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, recognizing exceptional meritorious service, has celebrated the contributions of Riley “B.B.” King and Aretha Franklin. Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowships, which are modeled after Japan’s “National Living Treasures,” has honored Charles Brown, Riley “B.B.” King, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and Mavis Staples. The Kennedy Center Honors, acknowledging a life dedicated to artistic and cultural endeavors, has paid tribute to Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder.

The Rhythm and Blues program is produced in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.