WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Music legend Led Zeppelin was
recognized on Sunday alongside entertainers from stage and
screen for their contributions to the arts and American culture
at the Kennedy Center Honors, lifetime achievement awards for
The eclectic tribute in Washington, alternated between
solemn veneration and lighthearted roasting of honorees Academy
Award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, wisecracking late-night talk
show host David Letterman, blues guitar icon Buddy Guy,
ballerina Natalia Makarova and Led Zeppelin.
"I worked with the speechwriters - there is no smooth
transition from ballet to Led Zeppelin," President Barack Obama
deadpanned while introducing the honorees in a ceremony in the
White House East Room.
Friends, contemporaries and a new generation of artists
influenced by the honorees took the stage in tribute.
"Dustin Hoffman is a pain the ass," actor Robert DeNiro said
in introducing Hoffman, the infamously perfectionist star of
such celebrated films as "The Graduate" and "Tootsie."
"And he inspired me to be a bit of a pain in the ass too,"
DeNiro said with a big smile.
At a weekend dinner for the winners at the State Department,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that the performing
arts often requires a touch of diplomacy as she toasted
Makarova, a dance icon in the former Soviet Union when she
defected in 1970.
Tiler Peck of the New York City Ballet, who performed in
"Other Dances," one of Makarova's signature roles, said she has
studied her idol's technique for years.
"This is a role she created," Peck said.
Despite the president's misgivings about his own speech, the
performance at the Kennedy Center navigated the transition from
refined ballet to gritty blues music when the spotlight turned
to Guy, a sharecropper's son who made his first instrument with
wire scrounged from around his family's home in rural Louisiana.
"He's one of the most idiosyncratic and passionate blues
greats, and there are not many left of that original
generation...," said Bonnie Raitt, who as an 18-year-old blues
songstress was often the warm-up act for Guy.
George "Buddy" Guy, 76, was a pioneer in the Chicago blues
style that pushed the sound of electrically amped guitar to the
forefront of the music.
"You mastered the soul of gut bucket," actor Morgan Freeman
told the Kennedy Center audience. "You made a bridge from roots
to rock 'n roll."
In a toast on Saturday night, former President Bill Clinton
talked of Guy's impoverished upbringing and how he improvised a
guitar from the strands of a porch screen, paint can and his
mother's hair pins.
"In Buddy's immortal phrase, the blues is 'Something you
play because you have it. And when you play it, you lose it.'"
It was a version of the blues that drifted over the Atlantic
to Britain and came back in the finger-rattling rock sound of
Jimmy Page, 68, was the guitar impresario who anchored the
compositions with vocalist Robert Plant, 64, howling and
screeching out the soul. Bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones,
66, rounded out the band with drummer John Bonham, who died in
The incongruity of the famously hard-partying rock stars
sitting in black tie under chandeliers at a White House ceremony
was not lost on Obama.
"Of course, these guys also redefined the rock and roll
lifestyle," the president said, to laughter and sheepish looks
from the band members.
"So it's fitting that we're doing this in a room with
windows that are about three inches thick - and Secret Service
all around," Obama said. "So, guys, just settle down."
The gala will be aired on CBS television on Dec. 26.
(Reporting By Patrick Rucker and Mark Felsenthal)