(WASHINGTON) — Seven entertainment icons were hosted at the White House on Sunday for their contributions to the performing arts.
Actor Dustin Hoffman, blues guitarist Buddy Guy, ballerina Natalia Makarova, and comedian David Letterman were given a reception with the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin before the annual Kennedy Center Honors gala Sunday evening. President Obama welcomed the performers before they were presented their awards at the event.
The president joked that the motley crew’s presence continued “a tradition at the White house by honoring some extraordinary people with no business being on the same stage together.”
“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,” he said. “And people from all around the world come here to make sure that they too can provide us the incredible gifts that they have.”
The individuals had one thing in common: all came from what the president called “humble beginnings.”
“Growing up as the son of a share cropper in Louisiana, Buddy Guy made his first guitar out of wires from a window screen,” Obama said, later adding that the artist is now one of the “last guardians of the great American blues.”
Makarova, on the other hand, defected from the Soviet Union in 1970 only to find her name excised from the record in her homeland.
“But no one can erase what takes hold in the heart,” Obama continued. “In 1989 when the iron curtain opened, the Russian people welcomed her back with open arms. Over 2,000 people packed in the Kirov Theater where she had trained when she was younger. Another 20 people crammed in the orchestra.”
While Dustin Hoffman and David Letterman started as a struggling young actor and weatherman, respectively, Obama credited the surviving members of Led Zeppelin — Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones — with redefining the rock genre and its lifestyle. The president said it was “fitting” the room had three-inch thick windows, given the band’s history of trashing hotels.
Together, the talent assembled reminded the country of the “unique power that makes the arts so important,” Obama concluded.
“Each of us can remember a moment when the people on this stage touched our lives,” he said. “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.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Eugene Scott, CNN
Z. Byron Wolf, CNN
Dylan Byers Sara Murray and Kevin Liptak, CNN
David Wright, CNN