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‘I embraced France my whole life’: Patti Smith receives French award

The American singer, now 75, was given the Légion d'honneur at a ceremony and performance in the US and said that it was ‘an immense joy’

Singer Patti Smith standing on stage wearing her signature black jacket, and long grey hair

Patti Smith, who performed after being given the award, said that receiving it was “an immense joy” Pic: Ben Houdijk / Shutterstock

Legendary American singer Patti Smith has been awarded the Légion d'honneur, France’s highest accolade.

She was given the award by French ambassador to the US, Philippe Étienne, during a medal ceremony at which she performed with her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, and her long-time guitarist, Lenny Kaye. 

The event was held as part of the wider Night of Ideas philosophy and performance festival put on by the French Embassy's Villa Albertine and the Brooklyn Public Library.

Ms Smith, 75, told AFP: “It's an indescribable honour; I understand the gravity of it. For someone who has been greatly shaped by French culture, French literature, French art, and film, just my whole life – it's especially meaningful.

“I embraced France my whole life, and to receive an embrace like this in return is a wonderful thing."

Ms Smith said that when she was in her 20s, she used to read French poetry to her late friend Robert Mapplethorpe when he couldn’t sleep. “I remember those nights so clearly,” she said.

The singer and writer also commented on the “very troubled world” we are living in, and added: “Artists can always inspire people, they can rally people, give people hope... in the end, it's not artists who make change, it's the people.

"Through voting, through initiative, through mass marches – it's the people that make change. The only way it can be solved is a global effort, and I think more than anything... that is the most important thing that people have to address.”

Patti Smith was a strong believer that power in society is [and should be] detained by the people. This led to one of her famous songs People Have the Power, released in 1988.

Ms Smith also said that she was “writing as always”, including songs, poems, and another book to follow her upcoming visual compendium, A Book of Days, which is set for release this autumn; and her award-winning memoir Just Kids.

She said that receiving the Légion d'honneur had inspired her to do “more work and better work”, and that it "felt very fitting to work [perform music] right after I received it…to be chosen as a sort of mini-ambassador for the country is really an immense joy for me.”

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