By Jeff Mason and Tim Ryan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama revealed a secret crush and Caroline Kennedy declared herself touched by a song during the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday, which celebrated stars Meryl Streep and Neil Diamond.
The annual awards program, which also honored singer Barbara Cook, jazz great Sonny Rollins, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, brought together stars from the stage and screen in a celebration of music, movies, and Broadway shows.
Obama, who greeted the honorees at the White House before the program, noted the importance of the arts.
"It's worthwhile ... for us to commit ourselves to making this a place where the arts can continue to thrive," Obama said.
"Right now, somewhere in America, there is a future Kennedy Center honoree -- practicing on some phone books, or writing songs to impress a girl, or wondering if she can cut it on the big stage."
Obama said he, like many others, had fallen for Streep, the actress who has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards and won two.
"Meryl Streep, anybody who saw "The French Lieutenant's Woman" had a crush on her," Obama said, joking that he was straying from his prepared remarks a bit.
Of Diamond, Obama said his songs could be heard everywhere from baseball games to children's movies.
"With a voice he describes as being full of gravel, potholes, left turns and right turns, he went on to sell more than 125 million records," Obama said.
The "Sweet Caroline" singer told reporters he would thank Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, for being the namesake of that signature song.
"I'm going to thank her for giving me the title for 'Sweet Caroline,'" Diamond said before the show. "The story really is about my former wife and myself, but it is her name that I used, and I have to thank her for that."
Kennedy, who presided over the show, referred to Diamond with a line from the song: "reaching out, touching me," to laughter form the audience.
Rollins, 81, said the night was a celebration of a uniquely American form of music -- jazz.
"America is the home of jazz, its where we started jazz, and people love jazz all over the world," he told reporters.