‘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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma Pays Trib­ute to Led Zep­pelin in Wash­ing­ton D.C.

Jim­my Page Tells the Sto­ry of Kash­mir

Jim­my Page and Robert Plant Reunite in Exot­ic Mar­rakesh, 1994

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Comments (21)
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  • rich says:

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

  • Ronald berkenbosch says:

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

  • lefthandluke says:

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

  • Simon Hopman says:


  • Leah says:

    Led Zep­pelin

  • Donna says:

    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

  • Bix says:

    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!!!

  • Martin says:

    I think a bet­ter trib­ute would have been “Stair­way to Gilli­gan’s Island” -

  • Jill says:

    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.

  • Jill says:

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

  • vitoria lima says:

    A sound sent straight­way from heav­en.

  • Les says:

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

  • Martin says:

    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.

  • David Huntley says:

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

  • yup says:

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

  • Bob Cunningham says:

    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.

  • Najib says:

    These ren­di­tion of led zep songs moved me to tears, i lit­ter­al­ly grew up dur­ing the led zep hey­days, in Malaysia that is, a coun­try far far away from England…i was still in high school those days and have always envied jim­my page’s superb gui­tar per­for­mance, and of course bon­ham s mag­i­cal drum beats, johns blis­ter­ing bass and the almost impos­si­ble voice pitch of rob plant…yeah as some­one had siad ear­li­er, it sends the shiv­ers in me hear­ing the kennedy cen­ter trib­ute …how i wish i can one day meet all led zep mem­bers in person…plse let me know how?

  • Jules says:

    Do we real­ly even need to say any­thing ? THE GREATEST ROCK BAND EVER !!!!!

  • Bill says:

    They say the solo was pret­ty close to the orig­i­nal.

    They don’t know a thing about the song, except that Led Zep­pelin wrote it, and the mem­bers of Led Zep­pelin.

    The solo was bare­ly rem­i­nis­cent of the orig­i­nal.

  • Bill says:

    Besides that, it was pret­ty cool.

  • David says:

    I keep watching/listening to this over and over, it’s mes­mer­ic, and hon­est­ly the solo gui­tarist must have the biggest balls ever, awe­some.

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