The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 22, May 29, 2023, Article 29


Cellist Yo-Yo Ma received the Smithsonian Institution's Great Americans medal during special ceremonies held May 9 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Here's the press release that was published prior to the event. -Editor

yo-yo- MA The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will present its Great Americans Medal to Yo-Yo Ma May 9 for his extraordinary impact as a musician and cultural ambassador. The presentation, with a special performance by Ma, is part of the Great Americans Medal Awards Program, the museum's signature honor. Ma will be the ninth honoree and the second musician to receive the award.

Supported by philanthropist and Smithsonian Regent Emeritus David M. Rubenstein, the ceremony will include a conversation between Rubenstein and Ma, preceded by a special performance featuring the cellist alongside the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society's Artistic Director Kenneth Slowik and cellists Kamila Dotta, Francesca McNeeley and Nathaniel Taylor on the museum's 1701 Servais Stradivarius, 1688 Marylebone Stradivarius and 1677 Herbert Amati violoncellos, a Schubert era fortepiano and 1899 Steinway. The evening's performance will be a multisensory telling of American history commemorating the intersection of the music enjoyed and played by President Thomas Jefferson and the family of Fredrick Douglass, including his violinist grandson, Joseph Henry Douglass; composers ranging from J.S. Bach and J. Raff to Henry Thacker Burleigh and Scott Joplin; and the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Ma will receive the Great Americans Medal for lifetime contributions embodying American ideas and ideals from the museum's Elizabeth MacMillan Director Anthea M. Hartig with Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III.

Since its inception in 2016, the Great Americans Medal Award Program has honored those who have not only made a lasting impact in their fields but also whose philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors have set them apart. This will be the first ceremony that includes a musical performance by the honoree. In addition to Slowik, Dotta, McNeeley and Taylor, Ma will be joined on the stage by Bunch.

  The Great Americans Medal obverse The Great Americans Medal reverse

About the Great Americans Medal
The museum will present Ma with a specially minted medal struck in Wisconsin from 1.85 ounces of fine gold. It features an American eagle with rays of the sun on the obverse or head's side with the words Great Americans and National Museum of American History engraved around the edge. The reverse side honors one of the museum's most important treasures, the Star-Spangled Banner, and includes the mission of the Smithsonian: For the increase and diffusion of knowledge. It measures approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter and was inspired by the rare Double Eagle coins in the museum's National Numismatic Collection, which were designed by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the $20 gold piece. The medal was made possible by museum board member Jeff Garrett and designed by Michael Guilfoyle, an international designer of coins and medals.

The presentation of the Great Americans Medal includes an interview with the awardee by Rubenstein; his interviews trace the arc of honorees' personal lives and careers for a broader understanding of the nation's shared democracy and values. Honorees' accomplishments and influence on American history connect to the museum's collections and exhibitions, including the impact of American giving. Previous honorees include Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), Thomas J. Brokaw, Cal Ripken Jr., Billie Jean King, Paul Simon, Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. and posthumously to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A Coin World article by Paul Gilkes provides additional numismatic background. -Editor

The Great Americans medal presented to Ma was made possible by museum board member and professional numismatist Jeff Garrett from Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries in Lexington, Kentucky.

Garrett provided the funding for the medal's production at the private Medalcraft Mint in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Garrett located the medallic artist for the medal and assisted in the design process.

The medal was designed and sculpted by Welsh artist, engraver and graphic designer Michael Guilfoyle, an international designer of coins and medals.

The medal, weighing 1.85 ounces of .999 fine gold, measures 38.1 millimeters in diameter.

To read the complete articles, see:
Smithsonian Presents Great Americans Medal to Yo-Yo Ma ( Smithsonian Great Americans medal awarded to cellist Yo-Yo Ma (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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