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Terell Stafford
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National Medal of Arts Recipient

As the nation honored jazz great Lionel Hampton during his centennial birth year in 2008, the White House gave accolades to Hampton’s jazz and education legacy – a legacy which endures in the seemingly unlikely locale of Moscow, Idaho. The University of Idaho Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival received the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s most prestigious arts award, from President George W. Bush in an East Room ceremony.

Former university president Timothy P. White and festival artistic director John Clayton accepted the medal in a White House ceremony. “This recognition affirms the vision shared by Lionel Hampton and the university about the power of jazz and education to bridge cultures, inspire creativity and develop the musical leadership abilities of the next generation of jazz leaders,” said White.

Hampton envisioned more than an annual gathering of the world's top jazz musicians in the heart of winter, in the small university town of Moscow, Idaho. He had a bigger dream – investing in future generations to perpetuate jazz as an art form and providing young students with a great introduction to the truly American art form of jazz.

The National Medal of Arts was established in 1984, the year Lionel Hampton first performed at the University of Idaho Jazz Festival, along with Sarah Vaughan. The festival began as a one-day event in 1967, and grew in presence and prestige through the decades. In 1985, the festival was renamed the Lionel Hampton/ Chevron Festival in his honor, and rededicated as the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival in 2006. Hampton died in 2002 at age 94.

“This festival has such an enduring impact not only on young jazz artists, but on established jazz artists and jazz supporters from around the world,” Clayton said. “Lionel Hampton’s vision that provided opportunities for professional musicians to mentor and nurture the next jazz generation is a strong part of the festival’s success. And Moscow creates an indescribable atmosphere for fostering jazz education and appreciation.”

The festival has attracted top-flight jazz artists from around the world, including current artistic director Clayton; Dizzy Gillespie, Arts Medal winner in 1989; Ella Fitzgerald, who received the Arts Medal in 1987; Dianne Reeves; Toshiko Akioshi; the Lew Tabackin Big Band; Doc Severinsen; Gerry Mulligan; Stan Getz; Carmen McRae; Diana Krall; Wynton Marsalis, recipient of the Arts Medal in 2005; The Four Freshmen; Bobby McFerrin and many more.

Congress established the National Medal of Arts for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. Congress authorized the president to award no more than 12 medals each year “to individuals or groups who, in the president's judgment, are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”