James Taylor, the singer-songwriter who first got his start as a teenager performing at cafes on the Vineyard, was celebrated Sunday as one of five 2016 Kennedy Center medal recipients.

“James is the consummate truth-teller about a life that can leave us with more unresolved questions than satisfying answers, but holds so much beauty that you don’t mind,” President Obama said at Sunday’s ceremony, which will air on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

James Taylor and other honorees with the President and First Lady at Kennedy Center gala. — Pete Souza/White House

The other 2016 Kennedy Center honorees were singer Mavis Staples, actor Al Pacino, pianist Martha Argerich, and Don Henley, Timothy Schmit, and Joe Walsh of the Eagles.

Former President Bill Clinton was among those who made an appearance at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Sunday to pay tribute to Mr. Taylor, who grew up visiting the Vineyard with his family.

In July 1963, the Gazette covered the 15-year-old singer’s performance at the Moon-Cusser coffee house; “he is definitely talented and has quite a performing career ahead of him,” the article by Trina Kingsbury said. The musical Taylor family is still deeply entwined with the Vineyard community.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Taylor had the chance to audition in front of Paul McCartney and George Harrison. ‘“I was as nervous as a Chihuahua on methamphetamines’ is what James Taylor says,” the President said Sunday. “Which is exactly the kind of metaphor that makes him such a brilliant songwriter.”

Speaking at the final Kennedy Center Honors program of his presidency, President Obama said the singer’s “defining gift” is empathy.

“We’re so grateful to him and Kim for their friendship over the years,” he said. “It’s why everybody from Carole King to Garth Brooks to Taylor Swift collaborates with him. It’s what makes him among the most prolific and admired musicians of our time.”

He continued: “The stories he tells and retells dwell on our most enduring and shared experiences.”

The President also noted Mr. Taylor’s honesty about his struggles with substance abuse, and his decades of progressive activism. “James Taylor has inspired people all over the world and helped America live up to our highest ideals,” he said.