"Every nation should elevate the kind of people we honor today," the president told a White House awards ceremony for the recipients of the National Medal of the Arts and the National Humanities Medal for 2000.
There were 12 honorees for the National Medal of Arts, established by Congress in 1984 to honor promoters of the arts in the United States.
"The arts and humanities bring us together," Mr. Clinton said.
Winners included the writer Angelou, who read poetry at Mr. Clinton's inauguration. The president said she has "shown our world the redemptive healing power of art."
Also honored were Russian ballet legend Baryshnikov and Streisand, a Clinton friend and fundraiser who the president said was one of a small group of artists who can be "recognized by her first name only."
Other reward recipients were guitarist Eddy Arnold, popularly known as the "ambassador of country music," and soloist and conductor, violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Despite the high-wattage star power, the president came close to stealing the show when he conducted the orchestra for a bit during the awards ceremony.
The National Humanities Medal -- also awarded to 12 recipients -- honors those whose efforts enhance Americans' exposure to the humanities.
Included among the medal winners were minister Will Campbell, a civil rights activist in the 1957 integration of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas; Judy Crichton, executive producer of PBS's historical series The American Experience; and musician-composer Quincy Jones, who has dedicated his career to promoting African American arts.
The first lady, who will take up her new role as senator from New York next month, joked the event had been postponed from October because "both of us were otherwise occupied" -- a reference to her husband's travels abroad and her own campaign.
The honorees were treated to a black tie dinner later on Wednesday under a huge, heated tent on the South Lawn of the White House.
The menu included red curried sweet potato soup, grilled yellowtail snapper and a salad of roasted Maui onions and tomato confit.
"I have a special feeling about the arts and humanities because in politics we are always concerned with the moment, trying to win the moment for the American people," the president said before raising a toast to the award winners.
"But in the end, those things that are timeless matter more, and that is what all of you have given us."
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