American President Joe Biden described the rock band as “a bridge between Ireland and America” at a White House reception ahead of the awards.
The annual honours are handed to those who’ve provided a significant contribution to American culture, with U2 given the award alongside George Clooney, Gladys Knight, singer-songwriter Amy Grant and composer Tania León.
“From this Irish-American president in a White House designed by Irish hands, I want to thank U2 for all you have done,” President Biden said to the band, referring to his own Irish-American heritage. “You really make a difference.”
“We consider America to be a home away from home and we are very grateful to the #KennedyCenterHonors for welcoming us into this great clan,” the band said of the honour.
“In December 1980, we made our first trip across the Atlantic to America. Our first show was at The Ritz in New York City, the second, The Bayou in D.C.
“We had big dreams then, fuelled in part by the commonly held belief at home that America smiles on Ireland. And it turned out to be true, yet again.
“But even in the wilder thoughts, we never imagined that 40 years on, we would be invited back to receive one of the nation’s greatest honours.”
All four members of U2 were present at the ceremony: Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr. The band have won 22 Grammy Awards since they formed in Dublin in 1976.
U2 have recently been causing excitement within America, with Bono refusing to deny the band were set to play Las Vegas next year.