Washington, DC -- For a Staff Sergeant in The U.S. Army Band, it's unusual to get a phone call directly from a Sergeant Major, so when Staff Sgt. Jan Knutson saw a call from his boss, the element leader of The U.S. Army Strings, he answered right away.
Sgt. Maj. Tom Fowler was calling to tell Knutson that he'd been selected to receive the National Medal of Arts on behalf of all military musicians as the youngest military musician in the National Capital Region. Knutson will receive the award presented by President Donald Trump.
The 21-year-old guitar player joined The U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" after winning a national audition at the age of 19. The soft-spoken Knutson has accomplished much in the early stages of his career, and is excited about the opportunity to represent over 6,000 military musicians serving in every branch. He sees serving in the military as an opportunity to take his passion and tremendous talent for music and apply it to something greater than himself. "I think in the best cases [music] can be representative of what we value as a nation," Knutson said.
Knutson comes from a family of military musicians. His father, Jeff Knutson, is a retired Navy Band trombonist. His mother, Laura Knutson, retired as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army Band, the unit where Knutson now serves.
The historic recognition of military musicians, alongside actor Jon Voight, singer Allison Krauss, and arts leader Sharon Percy Rockefeller, was announced via press release by the White House on November 18. The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government, according to a Department of Defense news release. It is awarded by the President to individuals or groups who "are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States."
Military musicians from all five branches of service will be recognized "for personifying excellence in music and service to country. From concert halls to war zones, these extraordinary patriots have inspired and uplifted their fellow Americans over generations with their incredible courage and breathtaking musical talent."
Knutson recently performed with his colleagues in The U.S. Army Strings and members of the Marine, Navy, and Air Force bands at the State Dinner in honor of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. For him, performing for heads of state and the nation's most senior leaders in government is a regular part of his job in the Army's premier musical unit.
But he does see this as an exciting opportunity to represent all of military music. "Well I just hope I do the best I can to represent what military bands are all about. This is organization is one I'm happy to be a part of, and I want to do my best," Knutson said.
President Donald Trump will present the 2019 National Medal of Arts on Thursday, November 21, 2019, at a ceremony in the White House at 6:00pm EST.