The 264-year-old Royal Society for the Arts, based in London, initiated the Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1956 to honor the Colonial fellow admitted in 1756. For the award, the RSA seeks people who transcend their vocations to generally benefit mankind.
Past recipients include naturalist Sir David Attenborough, architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and actress Dame Judi Dench. Hancock is the first musician to get the medal.
“He’s an American icon — at this point, we can escalate that to world icon,” said Christian McBride, himself a towering jazz artist, who performed for Hancock at the ceremony in the Annenberg Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “His art knows no bounds. That’s easier said than done. A lot of musicians say they appreciate everything, but don’t actually do everything. Herbie Hancock has done everything. He’s fearless.”