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National Medals of Arts presented to Mel Brooks and Audra McDonald

President Obama joked that medal recipient Morgan Freeman was absent because the actor was "undoubtedly off playing black president again."

By Karen Butler
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National Medals of Arts presented to Mel Brooks and Audra McDonald
President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Arts to actor and comedian Mel Brooks during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., on September 22, 2016. Obama awarded the awarded the 2015 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medals to 24 recipients. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama honored Mel Brooks, Philip Glass, Sandra Cisneros and Berry Gordy for their contributions to American culture at the White House Thursday.

First lady Michelle Obama also attended the event, which gave National Medals of Arts or Humanities to luminaries like Jose Andres, Terry Gross, Louise Gluck, Santiago Jiménez, Jr., Moises Kaufman, Ralph Lemon, Luis Valdez and Jack Whitten.

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Obama said he and his wife have "tried to make it a priority to promote the arts and the humanities, especially for our young people," describing this year's recipients as "essential to who we are as Americans."

"Their paths and their mediums could hardly be more different, and that's what makes them great," the president said. "They open our experience to theirs, and for that we honor them here today."

Obama joked that medal recipient Morgan Freeman was absent because the actor was "undoubtedly off playing black president again."

"He never lets me have my moment," Obama quipped.

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