Jon Hendricks has long been a part of the music world's royalty.
Now the jazz icon and World War II veteran's contributions have landed him France's highest award - the Legion of Honor.
The 82-year-old musical legend, who grew up in Toledo and later battled in France to free that country from Nazism, was given the award Sunday for both his military and musical accomplishments, according to French officials.
Mr. Hendricks, a University of Toledo professor, was the guest of honor performing at a jazz festival near the French city of Caen connected to the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion when the deputy mayor of Herouville-Saint-Clair made the surprise presentation during an intermission.
"He was absolutely not aware of what would happen, that he would get the Legion of Honor," said Pascale Furlong, the press attache for the French consulate in Chicago.
After receiving the award and another medal reserved for veterans who fought in Normandy, Mr. Hendricks went backstage and returned wearing his G.I. uniform, which he donned for the remainder of his concert, she said.
The five-time Grammy winner, who arrived in France in 1944 less than two weeks after D-Day, was in Paris yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
Roger Ray, director of the Humanities Institute at UT, said he spoke to his friend earlier this week about the honor.
"Jon has won many awards over the course of his career, but I think he regards this prize as especially important," Mr. Ray said. "He was deeply pleased and was so excited that he had to call Toledo with the news."
The Legion of Honor dates back to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, who created it in 1802 as a military and civil order conferred without regard to birth or religion. It requires 20 years of civil achievement in peacetime or extraordinary valor in war. Mr. Hendricks was named a knight or chevalier, the lowest of the Legion's five levels.
The insignia consists of a
white enameled star of five rays on a wreath of leaves. There is a gold medallion in the center ringed by blue enamel. In 1999, there were 115,000 living people who had received the award, according to the French Embassy in the United States.
Mr. Hendricks joined the Legion separately from the 100 American veterans who were given the award over the weekend. They were chosen as representatives of those Americans who helped liberate France. Mr. Hendricks was singled out separately by the French Ministry of Culture, Ms. Furlong said.
She explained that Mr. Hendricks is extremely well-known in France for his jazz. The father of vocalese - the layering of words over jazz instrumentals - he has performed with the likes of Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis.
His daughter, Michelle, lives near Paris and, in 2002, he became the first jazz artist ever to speak at the Sorbonne.
Mr. Ray said the love and appreciation that the French people have for Mr. Hendricks is mutual.
"Jon loves the fact that the French are very much devoted to jazz .●.●. He thinks that the French are standard-setters for living the good life," he said.
"He is one of the last shapers of the field [of jazz]," he continued. "Practically everybody else had died, but Jon rolls on."
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