President Barack Obama honoured Bob Dylan at the White House on Tuesday, saying there was “not a bigger giant in the history American music” than the diminutive folk singer.
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Dylan, whose long musical journey has seen him go from hero of the 1960s counterculture to a guest of the White House, looked impassive behind dark aviator sunglasses as Mr Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.
“By the time he was 23, Bob’s voice, with its weight, its unique, gravelly power was redefining not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and how it made people feel. Today, everybody from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owes Bob a debt of gratitude,” Mr Obama said. “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”
To laughter, Mr Obama admitted: “I have to say that I am a really big fan”.
The 71-year-old Dylan, who has written more than 600 songs and won 11 Grammys, was described as a “modern-day troubador” and “one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century” in the award’s official citation.
In addition to Dylan and the novelist Toni Morrison, Mr Obama awarded the prize to astronaut and former senator John Glenn, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Jan Karski, an officer in the Polish underground who carried his eyewitness account of the Nazi Holocaust to the outside world.
Mr Peres did not attend the ceremony and the White House said he would receive his medal at a separate event.
The president has sole discretion in choosing the recipients. The medal has been awarded in the past to Henry Kissinger, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
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