When Led Zeppelin Were Moved to Tears

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Ann Wilson Nancy Wilson Kennedy Center 2012

Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson

Since 1978, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts recognizes talent for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television as Kennedy Center Honorees.

Among the Center’s 200 recipients since they were started in 1978 are such rock and pop music legends as Brian Wilson, Carole KingBilly Joel, Carlos SantanaPaul McCartneyBruce SpringsteenThe Who, Joni Mitchell, and many more. For years, it was strictly a highbrow affair with Honorees like Fred Astaire, Leonard Bernstein, and so on. It wasn’t until 1994 when a more contemporary music icon, Aretha Franklin, was first selected. Since then, the committee has chosen performers from the classic rock era virtually every year.

When the Eagles and James Taylor were among the artists selected for 2016, Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said: “The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates the spectacular talents of artists whose brilliance has left a lasting impact on our society. These Honorees represent what is possible when creativity is not just cultivated, but unleashed.”

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On December 2, 2012, the living members of Led Zeppelin – John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant – were among those chosen to be recognized. And doing the honors, as it were, with a phenomenal performance of “Stairway to Heaven” were Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of Heart, plus John Bonham’s son, Jason, on drums, and a cast of thousands – or at least several dozen.

The emotional rendition moved Plant to tears – literally. It’s our Classic Video…

“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,” President Barack Obama said in his tribute. “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,” he continued.

He added: “It’s been said that a generation of young people survived teenage angst with a pair of headphones and a Zeppelin album… but even now, 32 years after John Bonham’s passing – and we all I think appreciate the fact – the Zeppelin legacy lives on.”

The president then thanked band for behaving themselves at the White House given their history of “hotel rooms being trashed and mayhem all around”.

In our extensive interview, Nancy Wilson told Best Classic Bands that she expected Heart to have another big reunion tour in 2022, but sadly it didn’t happen. However, the sisters will hit the road together as Heart in December 2023. Tickets are available here.

Led Zeppelin tweeted this photo in 2022, on the 10th anniversary of the event.

Related: The inside story of Led Zeppelin’s U.S. breakthrough

Best Classic Bands Staff

4 Comments so far

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  1. Handy2122
    #1 Handy2122 11 March, 2017, 04:38

    Ann Wilson, in the top 2 of best female vocalists there ever was.

    Reply this comment
    • Martha
      Martha 2 December, 2018, 01:50

      AND…She was 62 years old when she performed this feat of awesomeness. Rock of ages indeed.

      Reply this comment
    • Lorelei
      Lorelei 5 December, 2021, 14:47

      Ok, who is the other one? To me she has the top female voice of all time 🙂

      Reply this comment
  2. Jr.
    #2 Jr. 1 July, 2019, 20:35

    Amazing tribute to Led Zep. Both the instrumentation and vocals were killer.

    Reply this comment

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