The stars were announced as part of the class of 2016 earlier this month (Sep16), and they were presented with their special accolades during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday (22Sep16).

"We believe that arts and the humanities are in many ways reflective of our national soul," Obama said, as he welcomed the honourees. "They're central to who we are as Americans - dreamers, storytellers, innovators and visionaries."

Composer Philip Glass, music mogul Berry Gordy, musician Santiago Jimenez, Jr., playwright and director Moises Kaufman, playwright and actor Luis Valdez, and painter Jack Whitten were also celebrated for their contributions to the arts, as were jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and Hollywood great Morgan Freeman, who were unable to attend the event.

"(Freeman is) undoubtedly off playing a black president," the Commander-in-Chief quipped of the veteran actor, who portrayed fictional leaders in Deep Impact in 1998 and Olympus Has Fallen in 2013. "He never lets me have my moment."

The National Medal of Arts are the U.S. government's highest arts award and they are presented to those who are "deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States".

Thursday marked Obama's final National Medal of Arts ceremony before he leaves the White House in January (17).