WASHINGTON — Fan-in-chief Barack Obama invested legendary singer songwriter Bob Dylan Tuesday with America’s highest civilian honor, praising the gritty folk legend’s never ending quest for truth.
Dylan joined other honorees including former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth and novelist Toni Morrison to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“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,” Obama said.
“Today, everybody from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owes Bob 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.”
Dylan, hiding behind trademark dark glasses, gave no noticeable sign of appreciation or emotion as he was summoned to receive the medal from Obama.
“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 added.
The revered singer-song writer was last at the White House in February 2010, when he performed protest anthem “The Times, They are a Changin'” nearly 50 years after belting out songs of revolution on Washington’s National Mall.
Obama also had warm words for Albright, the first woman to serve as US secretary of state, during former president Bill Clinton’s second term.
“When Saddam Hussein called her a ‘snake,’ she wore a serpent on her lapel the next time she visited Baghdad,” Obama quipped in a reference to the former top diplomat’s penchant for sporting flamboyant broaches.
“When Slobodan Milosevic referred to her as a ‘goat,’ a new pin appeared in her collection.
“As the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat, Madeleine’s courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world.”
Obama lauded another female pioneer Toni Morrison, author of novels “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved” for prose of a “kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt.”
“She believes that language arcs toward the place where meaning might lie, and the rest of us are lucky to be following along for the ride.”
Obama also posthumously recognized former Polish underground resistance officer Jan Karski for his role in exposing the Holocaust after he provided some of the first eyewitness accounts from the Warsaw ghetto and a Nazi transit camp.
Karski, later a professor of history at Georgetown University in Washington, died aged 86 in 2000.
Also honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday were civil rights lawyer John Doar, epidemiologist William Foege, labor organizer Dolores Huerta, retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, and woman’s basketball coach Pat Summitt.
Gordon Hirabayashi, who defied the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low, also received medals posthumously.
Israel President Shimon Peres will be invested with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a separate ceremony.