Linda Ronstadt was Obama's childhood crush

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Pop singer Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony on Monday afternoon.

After all, she is no stranger to the stage.

Even when United States President Barack Obama whispered something to her as he put the medal around her neck - that he had had a "little crush" on her when he was younger - she just smiled.

She has probably heard that before too.

Mr Obama had a secret for each of the 22 recipients of the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal: He brought author Maxine Hong Kingston close to tears when he told her he had used her memoir, The Woman Warrior, as a model for his own.

They were not secrets by the end of the East Room ceremony. The President shared with the crowd what he had told some recipients as he spoke about his personal connection to their work.

The medals, which are given by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, are touted as the highest honours given by the US government to artists, arts patrons, scholars and critics in their fields.

"The arts and humanities aren't just there to be consumed when we have a moment... we need them," Mr Obama said.

There was enthusiastic applause, but no cheering, as he placed medals around the recipients' necks. Instead, it was apparent where each recipients' fans were sitting based on where in the crowd a cluster of iPhone screens shot into the air for a photograph as they walked towards the President.

Ronstadt is now 68 and suffering from Parkinson's.

Her massive success in the 1970s, as a rare woman in the boys' club of rock, was uncharted territory at the time.

Known for hits such as It's So Easy and You're No Good, she is credited with inspiring female rockers. She has taken home 11 Grammys and worked with a wide range of artists from Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton to Neil Young and Elvis Costello.

Along with Ronstadt and Kingston, the arts medal was awarded to poet and novelist Julia Alvarez; Chicago arts patron Joan Harris; dancer and choreographer Bill Jones; composer John Kander; DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; documentary film-maker Albert Maysles; New York architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams; and Arizona artist James Turrell.

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