WASHINGTON — Music legend Elton John, opera diva Joan Sutherland and conductor John Williams — along with actors Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee — were honored Sunday with a star-studded tribute at the Kennedy Center.

The six recipients of the 27th annual Kennedy Center Honors were saluted for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.

President and Laura Bush greeted the honorees at a reception at the White House Sunday afternoon. At the Kennedy Center, the honorees were seated in a balcony near the Bushes, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, Secretary of State Colin Powell and the woman nominated to replace him, Condoleezza Rice. Hollywood stars in the audience included Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino.

John, 57, has sold more than 60 million albums in three decades with hits such as "Rocket Man" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

Winning the honor "is about the icing on the cake," John said Sunday as he walked into the White House reception. "It's incredible for someone who's British to be given such an accolade from America, which has given me so much already in my career."

Australian-born soprano Sutherland, 78, was saluted by fellow opera singers Sherrill Milnes and Marilyn Horne, a previous honoree. Milnes called Sutherland "an avalanche of sound. She's become the standard by which all others are measured."

Composer and conductor Williams, 72, has won five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys and two Emmys and is best known for his film scores for "Star Wars," "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T." Director Steven Spielberg called him "a national treasure, as American as apple pie and President Bush's mom," and noted, "John Williams' scores are guaranteed to make you use a whole box of Kleenex."

Husband-and-wife acting team Davis, 86, and Dee, 80, were feted for their long careers on stage and screen as well as their political activism. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who appeared in a recent Broadway revival of "A Raisin in the Sun," said he was inspired by Dee, who starred in the original production. "Ruby wanted me to understand how high the stakes were, that failure was not an option," Combs said.

Beatty, 67, is an actor, writer, producer and director. He has been nominated for Academy Awards 15 times and won an Oscar in 1982 as best director for "Reds."

On the Net:

Kennedy Center Honors: www.kennedy-center.org/programs/specialevents/honors/