"By the time he was twenty-three, Bob's voice with its weight, with its unique gravely power was redefining not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and the way it made people feel," Obama said at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.
The president spoke of Dylan's influence on modern artists, saying musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owe the honoree a "debt of gratitude."
"There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music. All these years later he's still chasing that sound, still searching for a little bit of truth. And I have to say that I am a really big fan," Obama added.
Obama also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Madeleine Albright, John Doar, William Foege, John Glenn, Gordon Hirabayashi, Dolores Huerta, Jan Karski, Juliette Gordon Low, Toni Morrison, Shimon Peres, John Paul Stevens and Pat Summitt.
The president recalled the personal influence the medal recipients had on his own life, telling the audience that he remembered reading Morrison's novel "Song of Solomon" as a kid and listening to Dylan's music in college.
"I remember in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up, because he captured something about this country that was so vital," Obama said.
The Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who have made "especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," according to the White House.
"We could fill this room many times over with people who are talented and driven, what sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people — not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily over the course of a lifetime," said Obama of the Medal of Freedom recipients.