Speaking at a reception in the East Room of the White House, noted President John F. Kennedy once said it's the "highest duty" a creative genius "to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may."
"Now, that's easy to say when -- as they do for these artists -- the chips usually fall in your favor, whether at Woodstock or the Oscars or elite venues all over the world," Obama said.
"But the fact is that the diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honor today haven't just proven themselves to be the best of the best. Despite all their success, all their fame, they've remained true to themselves -- and inspired the rest of us to do the same."
Obama said each one "has given us something unique and enriched us beyond measure, as individuals and as a nation," and "Together they bring us closer to President Kennedy's vision of the arts as a great humanizing and truth-telling experience."
The president and first lady Michelle Obama later attended the star-studded program at the Kennedy Center. The gala will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. EST.