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David Letterman's "stupid human tricks" and Top 10 lists vaulted into the ranks of cultural acclaim Sunday night as the late-night comedian received this year's Kennedy Center Honors with rock band Led Zeppelin, an actor, a ballerina and a bluesman.

Stars from New York, Hollywood and the music world joined President Barack Obama at the White House on Sunday night to salute the honorees, whose ranks also include actor 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. The recipients were later saluted by fellow performers at the Kennedy Center Opera House in a show to be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.

Obama drew laughs from his guests when he described the honorees as "some extraordinary people who have no business being on the same stage together."

Noting that Guy made his first guitar strings using the wire from a window screen, he quipped, "That worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitoes were getting in."

The president thanked the members of Led Zeppelin for behaving themselves at the White House given their history of "hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around."

Obama noted Letterman's humble beginnings as an Indianapolis weatherman who once reported the city was being pelted by hail 'the size of canned hams.'"

"It's one of the highlights of his career," he said.

All kidding aside, Obama described all of the honorees as artists who "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," he added.

Later on the red carpet, Letterman said he was thrilled by the recognition and to visit Obama at the White House.

"It supersedes everything, honestly," he said. "I haven't won that many awards."

During the show, comedian Tina Fey said she grew up watching her mom laugh at Letterman as he brought on "an endless parade of weirdos."

"Who was this Dave Letterman guy?" Fey said. "Was he a brilliant, subtle passive-aggressive parody of a talk show host? Or just some Midwestern goon who was a little bit off? Time has proven that there's just really no way of knowing."

Alec Baldwin offered a Top 10 reasons Letterman was winning the award, including the fact that he didn't leave late night for a six-month stint in primetime – a not-so-subtle dig at rival Jay Leno.

Jimmy Kimmel, who will soon compete head-to-head with Letterman on ABC, said he fell in love with Letterman early in life and even had a "Late Night" cake on his 16th birthday.

"To me it wasn't just a TV show," Kimmel said. "It was the reason I would fail to make love to a live woman for many, many years."

For Buddy Guy, singers Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman and others got most of the crowd on its feet singing Guy's signature "Sweet Home Chicago."

Morgan Freeman hailed Guy as a pioneer who helped bridge soul and rock and roll.

"When you hear the blues, you really don't think of it as black or white or yellow or purple or blue," Freeman said. "Buddy Guy, your blue brought us together."

Robert De Niro saluted Hoffman, saying he had changed acting, never took any shortcuts and was brave enough to be a perfectionist.

"Before Dustin burst on the scene, it was pretty much OK for movie stars to show up, read their lines and, if the director insisted, act a little," De Niro said. "But then Dustin came along – and he just had to get everything right."

By the end of the night, the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock and Lenny Kravitz got the crowd moving to some of Zeppelin's hits at the Kennedy Center.

Jack Black declared Zeppelin the "greatest rock and roll band of all time."

"That's right. Better than the Beatles. Better than the Stones. Even better than Tenacious D," he said. "And that's not opinion – that's fact."

For the finale, Heart's Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson sang "Stairway to Heaven," accompanied by a full choir and Jason Bonham, son of the late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.

Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and his bandmates John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page seemed moved by the show.

Meryl Streep first introduced the honorees Saturday as they received the award medallions during a formal dinner at the U.S. State Department hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton said 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 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."

From: Huffington Post
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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

March 17, 1969 - A four-song performance is filmed for TV Byen in Denmark (aired on May 19, 1969)
March 21, 1969 - Zeppelin’s debut TV appearance on "How It Is"
March 25, 1969 - Filming session for the Supershow
March xx, 1970 - The band turns down many TV offers worth large sums
March 05, 1971 - Led Zeppelin started a 12-date "Thank You" tour for British fans, appearing at the clubs from their early days and charging the same admission prices as in 1968. The first show was at Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland where they played songs from their upcoming fourth album, including the first public performances of Black Dog, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California and Rock And Roll.
March 12, 1972 - Page and Plant rehearse some songs with the Bombay Orchestra
March 25, 1973 - Led Zeppelin finally release Houses of the Holy after production issues with the album cover
March 28, 1973 - Led Zeppelin released Houses Of The Holy in the UK. The album title was a dedication by the band to their fans who appeared at venues they dubbed "houses of the holy". Houses Of The Holy has now been certified 11 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 11 million copies.
March xx, 1974 - The band decide to release a double album due to the amount of left over studio material
March 29, 1975 - Led Zeppelin saw all six of their albums in the US Top 100 chart in the same week, alongside their latest album Physical Graffiti at No.1. Physical Graffiti has now been certified 16 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 16 million copies.
March 15, 1975 - Tickets for the Earls Court shows sellout within four hours
March xx, 1976 - Jimmy speaks with reporters mentioning the new album due out called Presence
March 31, 1976 - Presence is released
March 28, 1977 - Zeppelin arrive in Dallas, Texas to rehearse before opening the eleventh tour of the US
March xx, 1978 - Robert and John spend some time hanging around the Midlands
March 26, 1979 - Robert takes lead vocal at a Bad Company gig in Birmingham
March 04, 1980 - John Bonham makes a TV appearance on "Alright Now" with Bill Connolly
March 26, 2006 - Readers of Total Guitar magazine voted the guitar solo by Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven as the greatest guitar solo of all time. The 1971 track was voted ahead of tracks by Van Halen, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and The Eagles. On the 20th anniversary of the original release of the song, it was announced via US radio sources that the song had logged up an estimated 2,874,000 radio plays - back to back, that would run for 44 years solid.
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