‘Stairway to Heaven’: Watch a Moving Tribute to Led Zeppelin at The Kennedy Center

Last month the surviving members of Led Zeppelin went to Washington to receive laurels from the powerful at the 35th Annual Kennedy Center Honors. The most memorable moment, by far, came at the end of the event, when drummer Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, put on a bowler hat like the one his father used to wear and joined Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart for a beautifully arranged and very moving rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”

It was the grand finale of an evening of entertainment. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones sat watching from the balcony (alongside the other honorees and President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle) as a series of performers paid tribute to the legendary rock band. The full 20-minute segment included an introduction by comedic actor Jack Black (who called Led Zeppelin “the best band ever”) followed by tribute performances from the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock and Lenny Kravitz. But the scene that really brought down the house came at the end, when the young Bonham joined the Wilson sisters to perform Led Zeppelin’s signature song.

Ann Wilson’s singing was right on the mark. Under the most intimidating conditions, she gave a beautiful and faultless performance. “It was our honor to be asked to do it before an audience like that,” Wilson wrote afterward on the Heart Web site. “My main goal though was to please Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones…especially Plant, since all these many years he has taught me so much about singing from the soul and has given me such a pleasure in his lyrics. What a high that night was. Never to be forgotten!”

Guitarist Shane Fontayne did an admirable job recreating Page’s famous solo at the climax of “Stairway to Heaven.”  But the most stirring moment came when a heavenly choir–all wearing bowler hats to invoke the presence of the departed Bonham–joined Wilson in singing the final lines of the song. Looking down from the balcony, the surviving band members were visibly moved. Tears welled up in Plant’s eyes. It was a fitting tribute to a great band, and proof that rock and roll actually can–in some hands, anyway–age gracefully.

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  1. rich says . . . | January 10, 2013 / 10:33 am

    Great rendition of the best song of all time by the best rock and roll band of all time.

  2. Ronald berkenbosch says . . . | January 10, 2013 / 2:41 pm

    What a fantastic performance!
    Not possible to sit still watching!

  3. lefthandluke says . . . | January 10, 2013 / 6:30 pm

    Classic performance. Couldn’t stop the tears. This was for you John Bonham.

  4. Simon Hopman says . . . | January 11, 2013 / 12:00 am

    Marvellous

  5. Leah says . . . | January 11, 2013 / 9:57 am

    Led Zeppelin

  6. Donna says . . . | January 11, 2013 / 1:27 pm

    Best song and band my absolute fav, This literally moved me emotionally. Was very well done and what a beautiful moment in time STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN WOW BY THE WAY MANY TEARS

  7. Bix says . . . | January 11, 2013 / 7:15 pm

    Wow. That was just f’in’ amazing. I had it cranked up Very Loud, and I could not sit still–what a kick ass rendition. I’ve been listening to that song since the very first day the album dropped all those years ago, and Ann & the band NAILED IT! And that choir was sooooo Powerful! Tears were definitely streaming down the cheeks…bravo!!!

  8. Martin says . . . | January 11, 2013 / 8:08 pm

    I think a better tribute would have been “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island” –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTCYLbFxTpI

  9. Jill says . . . | January 12, 2013 / 5:01 am

    When I watched this the night it aired I closed my eyes and saw them performing again. It gave me the chills. One of my all time favorite songs.

  10. Jill says . . . | January 12, 2013 / 11:32 am

    Crying. How beautiful, how heartfelt (no pun intended) how wonderful. I have chills everywhere.

  11. vitoria lima says . . . | January 12, 2013 / 1:10 pm

    A sound sent straightway from heaven.

  12. Les says . . . | January 12, 2013 / 1:39 pm

    that is the reason rock music still lives,,, and will live forever “”" WOW”"”

  13. Martin says . . . | January 12, 2013 / 1:42 pm

    I really expected to hate this version. Shame on me…. it was very very good.

    Not as good as the original but very good indeed.

  14. David Huntley says . . . | January 12, 2013 / 11:34 pm

    It was a beautiful moment ..The song stays the same. So many great memories. Thank you .

  15. yup says . . . | January 13, 2013 / 8:44 am

    For a long song this just got better and better – well done all.

  16. Bob Cunningham says . . . | April 11, 2014 / 10:35 pm

    Shane Fontayne is an amazing guitarist, and what an honor for him to play the solo part in “Stairway To Heaven”. Honoring Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center Awards, so deserving.

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