Portrait of a Nation: Gayle King to Host Biennial American Portrait Gala Honoring Earth, Wind & Fire and More; Michelle Obama Among Presenters

Gayle King, Earth, Wind & Fire and Michelle Obama
Gayle King, Earth, Wind & Fire and Michelle Obama
Photo: Nicholas Hunt (Getty Images), Smithsonian

The National Portrait Gallery continues to make big news: A week after announcing that Vogue’s history-making portrait of Beyoncé (photographed by Tyler Mitchell) will grace its hallowed halls, the Smithsonian institution announced the talent lineup for its biennial American Portrait Gala, which will take place on Nov. 17, hosted by none other than Gayle King.


According to a press release, this year’s gala—one of the capital city’s highest-profile social events, will honor six “cultural icons” with its prestigious Portrait of a Nation prize. Celebrating “exemplary achievements in the worlds of science, performing arts, business, fashion and media,” 2019 Portrait of a Nation prizes will be awarded to Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour; Amazon founder and philanthropist Jeff Bezos; Hamilton and The Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda; Nobel Prize-winning chemical engineer Frances Arnold; renowned business executive Indra Nooyi (also a vice-chair for the evening), and legendary music group Earth, Wind & Fire.

The evening’s presenters are illustrious, as well; along with King as emcee, the event will boast a number of well-known names, including comedian and host James Corden, who will present to fellow Brit Wintour; astrophysicist France Córdova, who will present to Arnold; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen, who will present to Nooyi; and Preston Bezos, who will present to his father, Jeffrey Bezos.

Portrait of a Nation prizes
Portrait of a Nation prizes
Photo: Smithsonian

And then, there’s Michelle Obama, who will likely be the only presenter or honoree at the gala to also have a portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, where the event will take place. While we’d love to see our forever first lady give an award to fellow Chicago natives Earth, Wind & Fire, she will instead be on hand to present to a lucky Lin-Manuel Miranda. Esteemed music exec Clive Davis will be handing out honors to EWF, who will also give a special performance.

“The Portrait Gallery is focused on bringing together people of different backgrounds and disciplines who have impacted American history and culture,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, in the aforementioned release. “We look forward to this stellar lineup of presenters sharing their thoughts and memories of each honoree. We are also delighted to bring new elements to this year’s gala including an honorary fashion designer.”

That fashion designer will be Prabal Gurung, a recurrent favorite of Obama’s, as well as an outspoken advocate for inclusion and immigrant rights, being one himself. While it’s not yet known how Gurung will be recognized during the fifth annual event, what is known is that American Portrait Gala is a fundamental fundraiser which strengthens the museum’s endowment for exhibitions, as well as their ongoing efforts to keep the Portrait Gallery relevant to contemporary audiences—you know, like the Beyhive.


Updated: Wednesday, 8/14/19 at 6 p.m., ET: An earlier version of this article stated that the American Portrait Gala would be taking place at D.C.’s Jefferson Hotel, which is a partner for the event. The gala will take place at the National Portrait Gallery, and the article has been accordingly been updated.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?


Not to be bitter, but when will Maze and the Three Degrees get their due?

And yes, I do love EWF, or The Elements, as we called them in high school. Fight me.