Other winners include a civil rights hero, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., plus St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan "The Man" Musial, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Obama's bipartisan gesture in picking the first President Bush for the honor is not unprecedented. Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, awarded a Medal of Freedom to former Republican President Gerald Ford.
"These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they've excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place," Obama said. "I look forward to awarding them this honor."
The medal is presented to people who have made notable contributions to U.S. interests, from cultural achievements to security matters.
The full list of winners:
—George H.W. Bush was America's 41st president, and previously vice president and CIA director. He also worked with Clinton to raise money for victims Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
—Merkel is the first woman and first East German to serve as chancellor of a unified Germany.
—Musial is a Hall of Fame first baseman/outfielder who played 22 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals.
—Russell is the former captain of the Boston Celtics and first black man to become an NBA head coach.
—Lewis served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped organize the first lunch-counter sit-in. In 1965 he led the Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala., march for voting rights and was brutally beaten along with others in what became known as "Bloody Sunday."
—Angelou is a prominent poet, educator, filmmaker, producer and civil rights activist.
— Jasper Johns, an American artist whose work has dealt with themes of perception and identity. He is considered a major influence on pop, minimal and conceptual art.
—Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who founded Citizenship Counts, an organization that teaches students to cherish the value of their American citizenship.
—Dr. Tom Little, an optometrist murdered last August by the Taliban in Afghanistan as he and nine others returned from a mission to provide eye care in the Parun valley of Nuristan. The award is being given posthumously to Little.
—Jean Kennedy Smith, a Kennedy family member who served as U.S. ambassador to Ireland and is the founder of VSA, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that promotes the artistic talents of children and adults with disabilities.