Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has been awarded America's highest civilian honour, the Medal Of Freedom, the White House has announced.

He will be honoured alongside the first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, astronaut John Glenn, and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

Dylan has been a force in American music since 1959, when he began playing in Minnesota coffee houses. When he was a folk singer in the 1960s, his songs such as Blowin' In the Wind and The Times They are a-Changing, were anthems of the Vietnam War-era protest movement.

Over the next 50 years, his career would span rock, Christian and blues, and he would become both a visual artist and a DJ, hosting a weekly program on satellite radio. Now 70, he is considered an influence on dozens of other artists because of lyrics, which range from the introspective to the political.

African-American writer

toni-morrison-300

Toni Morrison has won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize, and will soon be honoured with the Medal of Freedom. (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

Morrison is known for her African-American stories, including portraying the slave experience in Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931 in Ohio, she went on to become a senior editor at publisher Random House before pursuing her writing career. She wrote acclaimed novels such as The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Albright was born in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia, and was the first woman to become secretary of state, after being appointed by former president Bill Clinton in 1996. She served until 2001.

Other recipients of the Medal Of Freedom announced Friday were:

  • Shimon Peres, Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
  • John Glenn, the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth.
  • Gordon Hirabayashi, who openly defied the forced relocation and internment in the United States of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.
  • John Doar, civil rights attorney.
  • William Foege, a physician who led the campaign to eradicate smallpox.
  • Dolores Huerta, civil rights worker and women's advocate.
  • Jan Karski, an officer in the Polish Underground during the Second World War and one of the first people to provide accounts of the Holocaust to the world.
  • The late Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the U.S. Girl Scouts, who died in 1927.
  • John Paul Stevens, former Supreme Court justice.
  • Pat Summitt, former women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee.

President Barack Obama will award the medals at the White House in coming weeks.

Established in 1945, the Medal of Freedom honours anyone who has performed a meritorious act or service that has aided the United States.