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4 Talents Who Have the Key to their City

Many celebrities have been getting the key to the city, but what is the importance, or reasoning behind getting a key to the city?


Jul. 28 2023, Published 4:24 p.m. ET

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Urban explorers and city enthusiasts have been curious about the enigmatic world of municipal symbolism for a while, and that is the concept of the "Key to the City." In many ways, this is a dazzling artifact that grants its holder access to the beating heart of a metropolis—a symbol of recognition, honor, and trust.

The key represented the trust placed in the recipient to enter and exit the city freely, indicating a person of high esteem and good character. Today, the tradition continues in many cities worldwide, although the significance and the process of awarding may vary from place to place.

What is the key to the city?

The key to the city is not a contemporary invention; its origins trace back to ancient times when walls and gates surrounded cities. The concept of granting a symbolic key can be found in ancient Roman and medieval practices. During that era, prominent visitors were presented with a sizeable ceremonial key, signifying their trustworthiness and endorsement to enter the city without suspicion.

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The "key to the city" is a huge symbol of honor given to an individual or occasionally a group, giving them the freedom of the city and symbolizing the recipient's special status and contributions to the community. It is a ceremonial gesture rather than a literal key that unlocks anything. Key holders are entrusted with a mission to inspire and uplift their fellow citizens, promoting unity and fostering progress within the urban landscape.

Fast forward to modern times, and the key to the city has evolved into an emblem of honor bestowed upon distinguished individuals. From celebrities and philanthropists to athletes and community leaders, recipients of the key are granted a special connection to the city's heart and soul. Here are some notable names who have been given this honor.

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Still shot of Usher performing
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Usher Raymond IV, known professionally as Usher, is undoubtedly one of the most influential and celebrated musical icons of our time. His incredible talent, mesmerizing performances, and unique charisma have captivated audiences worldwide, allowing him to maintain a prominent presence in the music industry for multiple decades. In 2008, the legend was awarded the key to New Orleans for his efforts in rebuilding the city after Hurricane Katrina.

Nicki Minaj

Close up shot of Nicki Minaj
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Renowned rapper Nicki Minaj received a prestigious accolade as she was bestowed with the Key to the City by the esteemed Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in recognition of her exceptional and groundbreaking career achievements in music. The grand ceremony took place at the iconic Queens Borough Hall, where fans, peers, and city officials celebrated Nicki's unparalleled contributions to the music industry.

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LL Cool J

Close up shot of LL Cool J
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Amidst the electrifying "Rock the Bells" festival in Queens, the legendary New York native LL Cool J was bestowed with the key to the city in a momentous ceremony. The event took place on the main stage, where thousands of enthusiastic fans gathered to celebrate the rich culture of hip-hop and pay tribute to one of its pioneers.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z

Close up shot of Beyoncé and Jay-Z
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Beyoncé, a global icon known for her mesmerizing performances and empowering anthems, and Jay-Z, a trailblazing rapper, and entrepreneur, have achieved unparalleled success in their respective careers and utilized their fame and influence to champion numerous charitable causes. In 2008, the powerful duo received the Key to the City in New Orleans for their philanthropy work and impact on popular culture.

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Whether it's launching charity initiatives, championing sustainable development, or advocating for social justice causes, those who wield the key have an essential role in shaping the city's future. As technology evolves, so also have the ceremonies surrounding them. Some cities have introduced digital keys or virtual awards that recipients can proudly display on social media platforms.

In the ever-changing urban landscape, the key to the city stands as a beacon of tradition and honor, a tangible reminder of the ties that bind a city and its most notable citizens. From ancient gateways to modern icons, the key to the City has transcended time, ensuring that the city's heart remains open to those who embrace leading with integrity, compassion, and innovation.

Who presents the key?

The key to the city is typically presented by the mayor or other city officials during special events or occasions, such as a visit from a dignitary, a prominent citizen's milestone achievement, or a gesture of gratitude to someone who has made significant contributions to the community. While the key does not carry any practical function, it serves as a meaningful token of appreciation and recognition for the recipient's positive impact on the city.

The author’s content and opinions have not been pre-reviewed, approved or endorsed by Discover.

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