December 2012: LED ZEPPELIN Receive Kennedy Center Honors

Thursday, December 2, 2021
(L-R) Led Zeppelin band members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones listen during an event in the East Room of the White House December 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event at the White House with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees to celebrate their contribution to the arts before heading to the Kennedy Center for the honors program. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

It was a tremendous moment for Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Robert Plant: the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were celebrated as Kennedy Center honorees alongside the likes of legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy, talk show host David Letterman, actor Dustin Hoffman, and ballerina Natalia Makarova.

The date was December 2, 2012, when the year's Kennedy Center honorees gathered in Washington, D.C., for the official ceremonies. At the gala ceremony, the Led Zeppelin tribute was saved for last. It was opened by actor/comedian Jack Black, who crowned Jimmy Page and company as "the greatest rock and roll band of all time." Black also described how the power and the beauty of a Zeppelin mixtape in high school changed his life forever, as did the band's wide-ranging lyrics about "love, Vikings, Vikings making love, and The Lord of the Rings." Watch his introduction below.

Among the tribute performances, it was sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart's show-stopping rendition of "Stairway to Heaven" (featuring Jason Bonham on drums) that truly struck a chord with the members of Led Zeppelin; singer Robert Plant was even moved to tears by the passionate performance.

"It was just one of those moments where we had to take a really deep breath before we walked out there," remembered Heart guitarist, Nancy Wilson, during an interview with radio station KSHE in St Louis (via Blabbermouth). "And we didn't even know what just happened until a couple of weeks later when we actually got to watch the show — the edited broadcast of the show. And we saw what happened then. It was, like, 'Oh my god!' That was such a moment. And also the other thing about it was that Jason Bonham, who's the son of their original drummer, John Bonham, was the drummer. And [Jason] grew up around those guys when they were young Led Zeppelin. So I'm sure that was part of their emotional reaction — was to see young Jason Bonham with a bowler hat that John Bonham used to wear all the time; he was notorious with his bowler hat. So all of those things combined, I think, led to them feeling emotional with that performance. It was really one of those life moments that you're never gonna forget," she added. "Just like, 'Okay, I was part of that, and that was really cool.'"

"It was definitely a surprise at that event. That's why you see their reaction. It was, like, 'You! What are you doing…?' I was hiding out," Jason Bonham said of the performance. "They don't usually honor the deceased member of the band. But [it was] very special, the way the whole thing was put together. At the time, it wasn't gonna be Ann and Nancy — it was gonna be somebody else — and said, 'I want people who love the band to be doing it, if we're gonna do this song.' So I was so pleased that they got involved. It was very special."