Obama salutes entertainers at Kennedy Center Honors

Mon Dec 3, 2012 10:26am EST
 

By Patrick Rucker and Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (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 performing artists.

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 at 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, a former honoree, said in introducing 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.

Makarova, the pride of her national ballet program, said she obeyed an impulse for creative freedom when she sought asylum while in London for a performance.   Continued...

 
President Barack Obama (R) and first lady Michelle Obama applaud on the balcony as they attend the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center in Washington, December 2, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed