President Bush handed out the National Medals of the Arts and Humanities at the White House on Monday. The annual awards recognize outstanding contributions to art, music, theater, writing and history.  VOA's Deborah Block has more.

This year's winners include a jazz pianist, radio talk show host, and authors writing on  American history.

First Lady Laura Bush  opened the ceremony.  She said the recipients represent the breadth of American creativity and the depth of the human spirit. 

"The men and women we recognize with this year's medals have entertained, educated, and simply amazed us," Mrs. Bush said.  "In the process, they have taught us more about ourselves and the shared ideals that make us all Americans.  Their achievement reminds us that freedom of expression is the hallmark of any democratic society - and the foundation of our nation's greatness."

This year's honorees include the Fisk Jubilee Singers, known for performing traditional African-American music known as spirituals.  Other winners are Jesús Moroles, a sculptor, and Stan Lee, the creator of famous comic book heroes such as Spiderman.

An actress was also given a medal.  Olivia de Havilland was Melanie in the 1939 civil war movie Gone With the Wind.   Now in her 90's, she was paid tribute for her acting roles throughout her career.  

A theater in Washington and small museum in Massachusetts were also honored.  

American President Abraham Lincoln was shot by an assassin while watching a play at Ford's theater in 1865.  The Washington theater was cited for preserving the place where the president sat.  

In Massachusetts, the Norman Rockwell museum was given a medal for honoring the life and art of the well-known American artist who died in 1978. Rockwell was known for painting the lives of everyday Americans.

President Bush also gave special Presidential Citizens Medals to several other people for exemplary service.   The medal is the second highest civilian award in the United States.

"As leaders of our government's cultural institutions, each of today's recipients have made lasting contributions to American life and civic culture - and each is greatly deserving of this honor," Mr. Bush stated.

The award was given to several people who have been involved in organizations to preserve America's heritage, including the heads of the National Endowment for the  Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Both are independent agencies that provide federal grants.