Sonny Rollins

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were on hand to salute the 2011 class of Kennedy Center Honorees on Sunday at the Kennedy Center in Washington. CBS will broadcast the show on Dec. 27.

Actress Meryl Streep, pop singer Neil Diamond, Broadway singer Barbara Cook, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins were all celebrated for receiving the nation's top award for those who have influenced American culture through the arts.

Rollins, 81, is a jazz saxophonist who has shared the stage with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. "America is the home of jazz. It's what we started," he said. "By the way, hip hop music is a part of jazz, believe it or not."

Friend Bill Cosby marveled about how he has heard Rollins' distinctive sax around the world in Greece, Hong Kong, Italy - and found so many people who knew the musician's work. "All over the world, Sonny Rollins," Cosby said.

Benny Golson and Herbie Hancock joined in playing some of Rollins' tunes. Fellow sax player and former President Bill Clinton said earlier that he has been a fan since the age of 15 or 16 when he bought his first Rollins LP and played it until it was worn out. "His music can bend your mind, it can break your heart, and it can make you laugh out loud," Clinton said. "He has done things with improvisation that really no one has ever done."

Information from Eurweb.com and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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