U.S. President Barack Obama recognized 17 Americans on Tuesday with the Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award. Recipients include giants of entertainment and sports, politicians, activists and government innovators.

From singer-actress Barbra Streisand to NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson to filmmaker Steven Spielberg to baseball legends Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, Obama paid tribute to American originals with the nation's highest civilian honor during a White House ceremony.

President Barack Obama, right, presents the Presid
President Barack Obama, right, presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Barbra Streisand during a ceremony Nov. 24, 2015, in the East Room of the White House.

Singer Gloria Estefan, her husband music producer Emilio Estefan, playwright Stephen Sondheim, singer James Taylor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and former Environmental Protection Agency head William Ruckelshaus also received the award.

Among the politicians honored were Senator Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving female U.S. senator in history, and Shirley Chisholm, who in 1968 became the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress.

Obama called Mikulski a "lioness" on Capitol Hill and praised her for "fighting for the prospects of America's women and girls."

Medal recipients also included the late Billy Frank Jr., an advocate for tribal fishing rights; the late Minoru Yasui, who made legal challenges to curfews imposed on Japanese-Americans during World War II; and Bonnie Carroll, a public servant who devoted her life to caring for veterans.

"This is an extraordinary group," Obama said, one that demonstrates "what an incredible tapestry this country is."