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Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow sang Mr. Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and Jamey Johnson and Kid Rock sang “Ramblin Fever.”

Vince Gill and Brad Paisley sang “Workin Man Blues.”

After the honors were announced in September, Mr. Jones, the son of potato pickers, said he could recall dreaming of big things as a 9-year-old boy in upstate New York.

He went on to create the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982 with his partner, Arnie Zane, who died of AIDS six years later. Mr. Jones has tackled tough issues with his work, such as racism and mortality, sometimes sparking outrage.

On Sunday, he was hailed as a rule breaker and revolutionary by playwright Edward Albee, actress Claire Danes and others.

Mr. Jones said he’s often felt like an outsider, yet he’s being honored for helping to shape the country.

Mr. Jones said he could “feel the love” and said he was thrilled to be receiving the award while Mr. Obama is president. Still, he said he’s discouraged by the country’s direction. “I am trembling a little bit, actually. The discourse is so poisonous.”

In recent years, Mr. Jones has shared his talents with Broadway, winning Tony awards for his choreography in “Spring Awakening” and this year for his show “Fela!,” playing currently in New York and London. He said he hopes more artists will bridge the gap between the dance world and mainstream theater.

“We don’t want to be marginalized anymore,” he said. “Indifference is worse than dislike.”

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.