Country musicians Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs were reportedly presented with the National Medal of the Arts by president Donald Trump on Wednesday. The presentation took place on the same day the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for a historic second time in the wake of the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th.
Because of Keith’s unwavering military support and jingoistic anthems like “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” the Oklahoma native has long been assumed to be a conservative Republican, though as he explained to the Chicago Tribune, he’s actually a former Democrat who is no longer affiliated with either party. In 2017, he performed at Trump’s inauguration ceremony, drawing some criticism.
Skaggs was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018. A lifelong Republican and evangelical Christian, he voiced his support for Trump in a 2016 interview with the Gospel Herald. “I love [Trump’s] enthusiasm and his fighting spirit,” he said. “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.”
A representative for Skaggs confirmed to Rolling Stone that Skaggs received the medal in person and says he was originally slated to do so last year, but the presentation was delayed due to the pandemic.
Skaggs started his career in bluegrass and brought elements of the genre to country radio with songs like “Heartbroke,” “Highway 40 Blues,” and “Country Boy,” the video for which featured bluegrass great Bill Monroe. Keith, meanwhile, has been a perennial country-radio hitmaker, with imagery-rich hits like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” the stridently patriotic “American Soldier,” and the novelty “Red Solo Cup.” They’ve both been relatively quiet in recent years — Keith released the singles “That’s Country Bro” in 2019 and “What’s Up Cuz” in 2020, though neither charted. Skaggs’ last new music was released in 2014.
This is only the second time in his one-term presidency that Trump has presented the National Medal of the Arts. In 2019, he gave the honor to Alison Krauss, arts benefactor Sharon Percy Rockefeller, U.S. Military musicians, and actor Jon Voight. Trump attempted to present New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick with the Medal of Freedom earlier this week. The coach declined.
A rep for Keith declined to comment.