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3 December 2012 7,649 views 20 Comments

President Obama’s opening tribute speech at the Kennedy Centre Honours Gala was streamed live last night. Many thanks to Barbara Cain who provided the link via Facebook. It was very exciting to hear these events unfolding in the UK and once again made us all so very proud to be Led Zeppelin fans…

President Obama talked affectionately about Led Zeppelin acknowledging their influence – and also tipping a hat to their rock’ n’ roll antics …

Here is the President’s opening tribute speech:

THE PRESIDENT: Everybody, please have a seat. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Well, good evening, everybody. You all look lovely. (Laughter.) Welcome to the White House on a night when I am nowhere close to being the main attraction.

Thank you, David Rubenstein, Michael Kaiser and the Kennedy Center trustees, and everyone who has worked so hard to uphold President Kennedy’s commitment to supporting the arts. I also want to recognize another of President Kennedy’s amazing legacies, and that is his wonderful daughter Caroline, who is here tonight. (Applause.)

None of this would be possible without the co-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, George Stevens — where is George, there he is — (applause) — and his son Michael — where did Michael go, there he is — (applause) — who have produced the Kennedy Center Honors for 35 years now.

Tonight, we continue a tradition here at the White House by honoring some extraordinary people who have no business being on the same stage together. (Laughter.) We’ve got Buddy Guy sitting next to Dustin Hoffman. (Laughter.) We’ve got Dave Letterman alongside one of the greatest ballerinas of all time. I don’t think Dave dances. (Laughter.) All three living members of Led Zeppelin in one place — (applause) — so this is a remarkable evening.

And it speaks to something that has always made this country great — the idea that here in America, more than any other place on Earth, we are free to follow our own passions, explore our own gifts, wherever they may lead us. And people from all around the world come here to make sure that they too can provide us the incredible gifts that they have.

Tonight’s honorees didn’t just take up their crafts to make a living. They did it because they couldn’t imagine living any other way. That passion took each of them from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of their profession. Tonight, in the People’s House, we have a chance to say thank you.

Growing up as the son of a sharecropper in Louisiana, Buddy Guy made his first guitar out of wires from a window screen — that worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitos were getting in. (Laughter.) But Buddy was hooked, and a few years later, he bought a one-way ticket to Chicago to find his heroes — Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Pretty soon he was broke, hungry and ready to head home. And then, one night outside a blues club, a man pulled up and handed Buddy a salami sandwich and said, “I’m Mud,” and “you ain’t goin’ nowhere.” And that was the start of something special.

Of course, success hasn’t changed the humble country boy who used to milk cows on a farm outside Baton Rouge. Buddy tells a story about his son Greg wanting to learn to play the guitar like Prince. Buddy told him he’d better learn some Jimi Hendrix first. (Laughter.) It was only after watching a TV special on Hendrix that Greg found out Jimi had borrowed some licks from his dad. So Greg said, “I didn’t know you could play like that.” And Buddy said, “You never asked.” (Laughter.)

Today, Buddy is still going strong — one of the last guardians of the great American blues. And on a personal note, I will never forget Buddy playing “Sweet Home Chicago” in this very room back in February and him, and a few others, forcing me to sing along — (laughing) — which was just okay. (Laughter.) There aren’t too many people who can get me to sing, but Buddy was one of them. And so we are so glad that we can honor him tonight. Congratulations, Buddy Guy. (Applause.)

When “The Graduate” was originally written, the main character was supposed to be Robert Redford — a tall, blond track star. And when Dustin Hoffman auditioned for the part, a crew member handed him a subway token on his way out, saying, “here, kid, you’re gonna need this.” (Laughter.)

Dustin ended up getting the role and it launched one of the greatest movie careers of his generation, of any generation. Most actors dream of being in maybe one film that becomes part of our cultural vocabulary. Dustin churned out “Midnight Cowboy,” “Tootsie,” “Rain Man,” “Hook” — not bad for a guy who signed up for his first acting class after a friend told him, “nobody flunks acting, it’s like gym.” (Laughter.)

Still, I imagine one secret to his success is his inability to see himself as anything but an underdog. Even after “The Graduate” became a runaway success, Dustin says, “I really believed that was a fluke and I refused to believe I had arrived. And in a way, I’ve been hanging on by my fingertips for the entire ride.

Well, Dustin, you’ll be glad to know that this award was not supposed to go to Robert Redford. (Laughter.) He’s already got one. (Laughter.) So tonight we honor Dustin Hoffman — an actor who has finally arrived. He’s made it. (Applause.) He’s made it. (Applause.)

If you ask David Letterman what’s it like to tape his show, he’ll say, “if it’s going well, it just lifts you. If it’s not going well, it sinks you. It’s exhilarating. It’s my favorite hour of the day.” It’s unclear how Dave feels about this hour. It’s different when you’re not the one with the mic, isn’t it, Dave? (Laughter.) You’re looking a little stressed, aren’t you? (Laughter.) I’d also point out it’s a lot warmer here than it is on Dave’s set. (Laughter.)

But I’ve enjoyed my time in the Ed Sullivan Theater. And earlier this year, Dave celebrated his 30th anniversary in late night television — the only person to reach that milestone besides Johnny Carson. Now, Dave will be the first to tell you that he’s no Carson, that all his years on television have only made him appreciate even more how unique Johnny was. But that’s a good thing, because if he were more like Johnny, he’d be less like Dave.

After all, it was Dave who got his start as an Indianapolis weatherman, once reporting that the city was being pelted by hail “the size of canned hams.” (Laughter.) It’s one of the highlights of his career. (Laughter.) It was Dave who strapped a camera to a monkey — (laughter) — worked a Taco Bell drive-thru, told Lady Gaga that when he was her age, he had a paper route. (Laughter.) It was Dave who came back on the air less than a week after 9/11 to show the world that New York was still standing. (Applause.)

So tonight we honor David Letterman, who has always offered us an authentic piece of himself — sometimes cranky, often self-deprecating, always funny. And those of you who have been on his show know he is also a true gentleman. So thank you, Dave. (Applause.)

When Natalia Makarova defected from the Soviet Union in 1970, she made headlines around the globe. But back home, her name was excised from textbooks, her photos expunged from the walls of her school. And for the next 18 years, her countrymen were forced to rely on underground channels to follow the rise of one of the most accomplished ballerinas in the world.

But no one can erase what takes hold of the heart. And in 1989, when the Iron Curtain opened, the Russian people welcomed her back with open arms. Over 2,000 people packed the Kirov Theater where she had trained as a young girl — another 20 people crammed in with the orchestra — all to watch a dancer who never thought she’d be back. It was a fitting end to a career that began when 13-year-old Natalia, completely double-jointed and possessed of an incredible gift for musicality and movement, told her parents she did not want to be an engineer, thank you, she wanted to dance.

After hanging up her shoes, Natalia moved to Broadway, where she won a Tony Award. And she remains as humble as ever — once saying, “I’m never proud of what I’ve done. Sometimes, I’m not ashamed.” So thank you, Natalia, for the understatement of the century. (Laughter.) And thank you for sharing your talents with all of us. Congratulations. (Applause.)

I worked with the speechwriters — there is no smooth transition from ballet to Led Zeppelin. (Laughter.) We were trying to work the “Stairway To Heaven” metaphor and it didn’t work. (Laughter.)

So when Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham burst onto the musical scene in the late 1960s, the world never saw it coming. There was this singer with a mane like a lion and a voice like a banshee, a guitar prodigy who left people’s jaws on the floor, a versatile bassist who was equally at home on the keyboards, a drummer who played like his life depended on it.

And when the Brits initially kept their distance, Led Zeppelin grabbed America from the opening chord. We were ready for what Jimmy called songs with “a lot of light and shade.” It’s been said that a generation of young people survived teenage angst with a pair of headphones and a Zeppelin album and a generation of parents wondered what all that noise was about. (Laughter.)

But even now, 32 years after John Bonham’s passing — and we all I think appreciate the fact — the Zeppelin legacy lives on. The last time the band performed together in 2007 — perhaps the last time ever, but we don’t know — more than 20 million fans from around the world applied for tickets. And what they saw was vintage Zeppelin. No frills, no theatrics, just a few guys who can still make the ladies weak at the knees, huddled together, following the music. (Laughter.)

Of course, these guys also redefined the rock and roll lifestyle. We do not have video of this. (Laughter.) But there was some hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around. So it’s fitting that we’re doing this in a room with windows that are about three inches thick — (laughter) — and Secret Service all around. (Laughter.) So, guys, just settle down. (Laughter.) These paintings are valuable. (Laughter.) They look very calm now though, don’t they? (Laughter.)

It is a tribute to you guys. And tonight we honor Led Zeppelin for making us all feel young, and for showing us that some guys who are not completely youthful can still rock.

So we’ve got Buddy Guy. We’ve got Dustin Hoffman. We’ve got David Letterman, Natalia Makarova, Led Zeppelin — (applause) — each of us can remember a moment when the people on this stage touched our lives. Maybe they didn’t lead us to become performers ourselves. But maybe they inspired us to see things in a new way, to hear things differently, to discover something within us or to appreciate how much beauty there is in the world.

It’s that unique power that makes the arts so important. We may not always think about the importance of music or dance or laughter to the life of this nation, but who would want to imagine America without it? That’s why we celebrate artists like the ones here tonight. And that’s why, in this season of joy and thanksgiving, they have earned our deepest appreciation.

So congratulations again to tonight’s honorees. Thank you all very much. And I look forward to a spectacular evening. Thank you. (Applause.)

Above photo AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Here’s the You Tube clip of  President Obama’s tribute speech to Led Zeppelin: 

Further reports on the State Dinner below:

Photo AP

Stars from New York, Hollywood and the music world gathered Sunday in Washington to salute the comedian and the band, along with Dustin Hoffman, Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy and ballerina Natalia Makarova.

The honors are the nation’s highest award for those who influenced American culture through the arts. President Barack Obama will host the honorees at the White House before they are saluted by fellow performers in a show to be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.

Meryl Streep introduced the honorees Saturday during a dinner at the U.S. State Department and noted Letterman had surpassed his mentor, Johnny Carson, in sustaining the longest late-night television career for more than 30 years.

Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel joined in celebrating his influence on many other comedians.

“I knew Johnny, and I loved Johnny. Johnny was beyond reproach,” Colbert said in a toast to Letterman. “Dave was stupid. Dave was ours. Dave was like us.

“We wanted to throw things off of buildings. … We would love to stick our heads out the window of 30 Rock and yell at passers-by, ‘I’m not wearing any pants!'”

Colbert marveled at Letterman receiving such an award after he “corrupted the minds of a generation.”

Paul Shaffer, Letterman’s longtime band leader, said he knew his boss was uncomfortable hearing such accolades, but that he was also enjoying every second of it.

Big names from the rock world dressed in black tie for the occasion to honor their heroes in Led Zeppelin as a string ensemble played “Kashmir” and other tunes at the State Department.

Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl said he never took any music lessons when he was starting out because “my teachers were Led Zeppelin. … They were the most powerful thing in my life.”

Lenny Kravitz said their music was special and became a lasting part of the culture of rock and roll.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “You get four guys that come together and make something so much more powerful than they all are.”

Zeppelin front man Robert Plant said he was flattered and overwhelmed in receiving the American culture prize. He said he was glad to see his former band mates, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, using good table manners.

The trio is scheduled to appear Monday on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman.” They are often asked if they’ll reunite.

Plant told The Associated Press he plans to continue traveling the world and wants to make new music along the way.

“If anybody wants to write some new songs, I’m game to write songs,” he said.

Hoffman was honored for charting his own path after taking a junior college class in acting that “nobody ever flunks.” Streep said it became a pilgrimage with Hoffman waiting tables and typing for the yellow pages.

“He’d do anything if it meant at night he could find himself on the stage,” she said.

Glenn Close toasted him for defining the character actor as leading man and as an artist who insisted on setting the highest standards for himself.

President Bill Clinton saluted Guy, the Chicago bluesman who was born into a family of sharecroppers with no electricity or running water in Louisiana. He went on to pioneer the use of distortion and feedback with his electric guitar.

“Buddy Guy’s life is a miracle,” Clinton said. “Just imagine you want to be a guitar player and you get your first strings by tearing off the screen door. … He came from that to this.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the ballerina Makarova “risked everything to have the freedom to dance the way she wanted to dance” when she defected from the Soviet Union in 1970.

Makarova quickly made her debut with the American Ballet Theatre and later was the first exiled artist to return to the Soviet Union before its fall to dance with the Kirov Ballet.

Clinton also took special note of Letterman, saying he must be wondering what he’s doing in a crowd of talented artists and musicians.

“Dave and I have a history,” she said. “I have been a guest on his show several times, and if you include references to my pant suits, I’m on at least once a week.”

The crowd of artists and entertainers gave Clinton a standing ovation as she hosted her final salute to the nation’s artists as secretary of State.

Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein gave her a subtle nudge to run for president in 2016, saying there’s another room at the State Department to name after a secretary who later becomes president.

via Brett Zongker on Twitter at /Ted Johnson Variety.


More great photos here…


This from lifelong fan Amy Maloney who attended the gala show:

Hi Dave: I just got home. What a night.

I’m thrilled to say that although I was not on the “press side” of the red carpet, I was very near to the front. Robert saw me, took a double look and promptly lit up, pointed at me, waved and smiled broadly. To which then JPJ turned around as if to say “Is there someone here we know?” And Jimmy Page

I think that the guys were extremely gobsmacked to be in that building receiving a very different sort of attention. You know, not much phases Robert, but he was very very happy. Mo was with JPJ, Patty was with Robert.  The performances… Kid Rock, The Foo Fighters – Jack Black’s honouring speech was average. Highlight for me was  Ann & Nancy Wilson, along with an orchestra, choir, and full band performing Stairway. It was exquisite.

 Many thanks to Amy

Dave Lewis/Gary Foy

December 3rd 2012.

Don’t forget that you can follow Dave Lewis/TBL on Twitter – LedzeppelinTBL

and view additional photos etc at the Tight But Loose Facebook page (add us as a friend) at!/profile.php?id=1611296783


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)


  • Lee Matthews said:

    “Guys, just settle down, these paintings are valuable”.

    I seem to recall someone’s tale of visiting a Zeppelin-associated mansion, and noticing a Canaletto hanging on a wall that had a hole punched in it!

    Great to see these guys get such recognition.

  • Ed- Washington DC said:

    Just watching the Letterman show with Robert Jimmy and John.

    John Paul Jones has this great dry wit. What a funny man.

    Letterman asks he feels like after this weekend, doesn’t it feel like he should be a member of the band?

    JPJ deadpans:


  • Ed- Washington DC said:


    PBS will broadcast the event December 26, not CBS. The Kennedy Center has some kind of a exclusive deal with Public Broadcasting.

  • Tim C said:

    I can’t help but to think of Bonzo and his contributions. “When the Levee Breaks”…”In My Time of Dying”…”Kashmir”…”Achilles Last Stand”…

    It’s so moving to see the guys be honored this way.

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Jeremy and Geoff thanks for your kind comments which make it all worthhwhile

  • Geoff Adamson said:

    Like everyone else I’m delighted at the recognition they have received. I believe there is an extended broadcast of the event on 25th December on CBS.

    Isn’t it nothing short of disgraceful the lack of coverage in the UK media. Sky News have an entry on their website with a short clip from the President’s speach with a transcript too. But the BBC and ITV seem to have ignored it totally.

    Great coverage Dave and thanks. So many people who would be interested have been denied by short-sighted broadcasting it’s outrageous. How many fans around the world will have missed this?

    These have been some of the most memorable weeks in their history. I think you’ve done them proud mate.

  • André Cruz said:

    Robert should think about all that happened these last months again and again. Led Zeppelin will always be so much bigger than his outstanding solo career. Whe he dies, he want this or not, he will be remembered as the Led Zeppelin singer. Five years later he gets another oportunity to have a good time playing with his best music mates ever. And doing just that, give the fans what they want… Some shows in specific places of the planet, maybe an album, not start with the band all over again. And, hey Robert, you can write new songs with Jimmy !!!

  • Steve said:

    Proud as punch 🙂

  • Jeremy Cagle said:

    Congratulations to the group who have brought so much joy to my life. Mr Lewis thank-you as well…

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Rob great words there…..did we ever both think as we both scribed away in the 1980s (Rob you may know wrote the brilliant Led Zep Collectors Guide books), that a day like this would come?
    This is something special and of course so are they and we knew that all along!

  • Rob Godwin said:

    Hey Dave, never thought I’d live to see the day when something like this would happen. Undoubtedly they deserve the honour but for so many years of Zeppelin being on the “outside” of mainstream popular culture it just seems so improbable. We’ve all grown up and lived our lives in the light of their combined musical gifts, so it’s really wonderful to see them all clearly smiling and having a great time and getting the recognition they so richly deserve. It seems inadequate compensation for all the pleasure they have brought to the world, but it’s a start! Led Zeppelin and Buddy Guy…Supershow 2012. From an abandoned paint factory in Staines to the White House…now that’s what I call upwardly mobile. Cheers Rob

  • Ed-Washington DC said:

    Haven’t seen “White Houses of the Holy” in a headline yet, although I was expecting “From the Misty Mountains to Foggy Bottom”.

    Here’s the money quote from the president, which I think brought it home for me:

    “Each of us can remember a moment when the people on this stage touched our lives. Maybe they didn’t lead us to become performers ourselves. But maybe they inspired us to see things in a new way, to hear things differently, to discover something within us or to appreciate how much beauty there is in the world.”

    Hard not appreciate how much beauty there is in the world after a listen to “the Rain Song” or “Down by the Seaside”, and certainly be inspired by “The Rover” or “Tangerine”. And or course, nothing was ever heard the same by me after “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love”.

    I’m so pleased for Led Zeppelin to be honored in this way by America.


  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Simon you got it!

  • Simon Cadman said:

    Presidential Day….

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Mark you are so right…..had a bit of a moment watching the speech and thinking how dear Howard Mylett would have loved all this…

  • Mark Harrison said:

    If THIS isn’t the highlight of their career then I don’t know what is….
    SO deserved SO right………..

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Simon I thik I will!
    Michaela – this has been history for sure…

    Amy – thanks for the great insights!

  • Simon Cadman said:

    Has anyone used ‘White House of the Holy’ in a headline yet???

  • Amy M. said:

    When Jason was introduced on drums with Heart prior to playing Stairway, he ceremoniously removed the cover of his drumkit to reveal what looked like Bonzo’s drumkit. It had Bonzo’s rune on the bass drum – the three linked circles. Those who knew the significance applauded with great emotion.

    Another really funny part of the night was when Ray Romano announced that he was pretty nervous and said something like “Oh, man I don’t wanna bomb in front of Led Zeppelin!!! I mean they were so much a part of my life!”

    I also noticed that the guys took their time while walking down the press side of the red carpet. No rush-throughs. It seemed like they really understood the gravity and importance of being honored at such a place as The Kennedy Center and happily took it all in with grace and dignity!

    Very proud to be a Zeppelin devotee as well as a lover of that gorgeous hall here in DC, The Kennedy Center.

    Amy Maloney
    Washington DC 3 December 2012

  • Michaela said:

    Dave – thank you – this is just wonderful. I watched on the live stream and just now read your words. It brought me to tears! How many other bands can we say that of. I was proud to be a fan , how proud must they be , and how proud their families and friends
    Dave …. Find out for us!

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