The good times never seemed so good for NEIL DIAMOND.

Known for his songs that have become anthems at ballparks and bars, NEIL was chosen Wednesday to receive the KENNEDY CENTER HONORS this year along with some of the biggest names from Broadway, jazz, classical music and Hollywood.

NEIL DIAMOND will be honoured with Broadway singer BARBARA COOK, cellist YO YO MA, saxophonist SONNY ROLLINS and actor MERYL STREEP for their contributions to American culture through the arts. President BARACK OBAMA will salute the artists and others will perform in their honour at a ceremony at THE KENNEDY CENTER.

NEIL said he was “flying way above sea level” when he heard about the honour.

“I’ve watched and I’ve seen and I’ve even dreamed that someday that would happen to me,” he told THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

“But I never really believed that it would.”

NEIL said he used to get distracted when people sang along with him to hits like SWEET CAROLINE, which was written for presidential daughter CAROLINE KENNEDY.

“But I realized pretty quickly that it was a compliment and I had no choice in the matter anyway. So I got with the program and just learned to love it,” said the singer, who earlier this year was inducted into THE ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME.

NEIL also tweeted Wednesday that he was engaged to a woman named KATIE — but wouldn’t tell AP who she was so that she wouldn’t “change her mind.”

YO YO MA is one of the best known classical musicians. He played for President JOHN F. KENNEDY and President Dwight D. Eisenhower at age 7 at a fundraiser for a national cultural centre that would later become THE KENNEDY CENTER. The 55 year old said he feels too young to be receiving such an award for lifetime achievements.

The son of Chinese parents who lived in Paris and moved to New York said some of his musical heroes have won the KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, including MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH and LEON FLEISHER, so he was stunned to be joining their ranks. He said the honours are an important moment to nurture the arts each year.

“The whole nation gets together to celebrate essentially the accomplishments of the human spirit. It really is to celebrate, in a sense, what people who are passionate are capable of doing.”

SONNY ROLLINS has shared the stage with CHARLIE PARKER, MILES DAVIS and DIZZY GILLESPIE, among others.

“I definitely feel that this award is not so much for me as it is for some of the great, great jazz artists that preceded me. I’m very happy that it’s an honour for jazz because I think jazz is such an important spiritual force all over the world.”

The elegant and incomparable MERYL STREEP has made more than 45 movies and has won two OSCARS in a career that spans from SHAKESPEARE to WOODY ALLEN. She was most recently nominated for BEST ACTRESS in 2010 for her performance in JULIE & JULIA. In the upcoming biopic THE IRON LADY, MERYL will play British Prime Minister MARGARET THATCHER.

She said she is deeply honoured by THE KENNEDY CENTER’S recognition and wishes her parents were alive to see it.

“All that education, allowance, tuition, voice lessons, summer jobs, scholarship application deadlines and loving care and discipline — all that they gave me bore fruit in a way they never dreamed,” she commented in a statement.


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