Among the entertainers spotted attending the East Room reception were John Lithgow, Robert DeNiro, Andre Previn, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Matthew Broderick, Sara Jessica Parker, Smokey Robinson, Stanley Tucci, Christine Baranski, Michelle Lee, Itzhak Perlman and Florence Henderson.
There were plenty of political power brokers, too, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
The Kennedy family was represented by Vicki Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith and Caroline Kennedy.
Obama called this year's honorees -- singer-actress Barbara Cook, pop singer Neil Diamond, cellist Yo Yo Ma, jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins and actress Meryl Streep -- "five giants from the world of the arts" being honored for "a lifetime of greatness."
He joked Ma is at the White House so often, "We need to give him a room."
Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein highlighted the reasons the five were selected.
"With her sublime voice and rich performances, Barbara Cook has defined all that is best and brightest in the Great American Songbook," he said. "Neil Diamond's songwriting genius has created one of the most enduring catalogs of American popular music and his live performances have captivated audiences for five decades. Yo-Yo Ma's sterling musicianship makes him one of the most versatile and popular classical music performers in the world and his Silk Road Project has inspired students across the world to love and honor music. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins' masterful improvisation and powerful presence have infused the truly American art form of jazz with passion and energy. The sheer brilliance and breadth of Meryl Streep's performances count as one of the most exhilarating cultural spectacles of our time."