The six were cited as "extraordinary individuals whose unique and abundant artistry has contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world," said Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Recipients of the 27th annual honors will be recognized at a gala performance at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 5 after attending a White House ceremony with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush. CBS will broadcast the gala later in December.
Beatty, 67, produced and starred in "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967 and made his directing debut in 1978 with "Heaven Can Wait,' which was earned four Academy Award nominations. He won an Oscar in 1982 as best director for "Reds." Schwarzman called Beatty "a film artist whose talents are astonishingly diverse."
The husband and wife team of Davis and Dee have won acclaim for their work in film and on the stage - and helped pave the way for other black performers.
Davis, 86, and Dee, 79, are "a greatly revered couple of stage and screen," Schwarzman said.
Singer and composer John, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998, has sold more than 60 million albums over more than three decades. John, 57, earned his first Grammy Award for best vocal pop performance with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from "The Lion King."
John was cited as "a pop music icon who also composes stunning musical film and theater scores."
The Australia-born Dame Sutherland, 77, who ended her long career in 1990, was described as "an operatic superstar of unsurpassed artistic achievement."
Composer and conductor Williams, 72, has won five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys and two Emmys and is known for his music for the "Star Wars" trilogy. He was cited as "one of the most influential American composers of the past four decades."
The Kennedy Center, on the bank of the Potomac River and not far from the White House, calls itself the country's busiest arts facility. It hosts more than 3,300 performances a year, including films, stage plays, musicals, ballet, jazz, the Washington National Opera, the National Symphony Orchestra, classical soloists and smaller ensembles. Features include the Millennium Stage, a daily free event.