The Medal of Freedom is the White House’s highest civilian honor.
Obama was in a playful mood as he read through the list of awardees, at one point noting Streisand’s Brooklyn upbringing and quipping, “I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra.”
He also read through her list of accomplishments, including her support of women’s heart health and women’s equality, telling the audience packed into the East Room of the White House, “I’m getting all verklempt just thinking about it.” (A reference to the Coffee Talk skits on “Saturday Night Live.”)
Obama referenced Taylor’s lyrics in citing his honor, telling the audience that “you always feel like he is singing only to you.”
Other entertainment honorees included Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio Estefan, who accepted their awards together, and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
When Sondheim, seated next to Streisand, stood and walked to Obama to accept his award, he first stood behind the lectern with the presidential seal, before Obama directed him into place to his right. Obama said Sondheim has “reinvented the American musical.”
Obama quipped that as Spielberg attended the ceremony, “Someone is calling him looking for a deal right now. They want to make a pitch, ‘So there is this really good looking president…'” The crowd laughed.