National Endowment for the Arts Statement on National Medal of Arts Recipient Stephen Sondheim

A man is seated on a stool, petting a large puppet of a cow. Another person dressed all in white hugs the cow.

Phamaly Theatre Company’s 2018 production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, which was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA’s support of Into the Woods goes back to 1988 and support for Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California, where the musical debuted. Photo by Michael Ensminger, courtesy of Phamaly Theatre Company

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of Stephen Sondheim, recipient of a 1996 National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the president of the United States.

The composer and lyricist of more than a dozen Broadway shows, Sondheim received eight Tony Awards, more than any other composer. He received the Tony for best music and best lyrics for Company in 1971; and best score for Follies in 1972, A Little Night Music in 1973, Sweeney Todd in 1979, Into the Woods in 1988, and Passion in 1994. In 2008 he was honored with a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. In 1985, Sunday in the Park with George, for which he wrote the music and lyrics, received the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The NEA supported the development and production of this musical at Playwrights Horizons. In addition to the National Medal of Arts, in 2015 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

The National Endowment for the Arts supported numerous productions of his musicals across the country, from the Wilma Theater production of Passion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the Fine Arts Association’s production of Anyone Can Whistle in Willoughby, Ohio; to 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Sunday In The Park With George in Seattle, Washington; Playwright Horizons’ production of Assassins in New York, New York; and Phamaly Theatre Company’s production of Into the Woods in Denver, Colorado. Sondheim also reviewed grant applications on an NEA musical theater panel in the 1970s.

In 2017, actor Jake Gyllenhaal was a guest on the NEA’s podcast and spoke about his experience performing in a production of the musical Sunday in the Park with George at Broadway's Hudson Theatre in 2017: “I could go on and on as many other people, and many other performers have about performing Mr. Sondheim's music. There is no space without intention, and there's no lyric without intention, and that's not connected musically with intention and I think you feel that in that song [“Children and Art”] very specifically.”


NEA Public Affairs,