Obama welcomes 'brilliant' 2014 Kennedy Center honorees

President Obama welcomed this year’s Kennedy Center Honorees to the White House Sunday evening, ahead of the ceremony at the Kennedy Center.

Musicians Billy Joel and Carlos Santana, pianist Herbie Hancock, opera singer Martina Arroyo and actress Shirley MacLaine are the five artists receiving this year’s honors. 

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“Each of our brilliant honorees has given us something unique and of richness beyond measure,” Obama said at the White House.

“As individuals and as a nation, together they bring us closer to President Kennedy’s vision of the arts as a great humanizing and truth-telling experience. Their triumphs have lifted our spirits, and have lifted our nation, and have left us in a better and richer place." 

The honorees will sit with Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the Kennedy Center ceremony Sunday night. The event will be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS from 9 to 11 p.m.

Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the honorees Saturday night for a black-tie dinner at the State Department.

The Honors, which have been awarded since the late 1970s, go to those in the performing arts for their contribution to American culture. More than 150 artists have received the award.

Walter Cronkite was known to host the Honors until 2002. Caroline Kennedy, who now serves as U.S. ambassador to Japan, succeeded Cronkite as a host.

Actor Dustin Hoffman, TV host David Letterman, and three members of Led Zeppelin were among seven people who were honored last year.