*Greeting the Kennedy Center Honors class of 2012 Sunday at a pre-ceremony reception at the White House, President Obama entered the East Room to cheers and applause, and said “Welcome to the White House on a night when I am nowhere close to being the main attraction.”
Stars from New York, Hollywood and the music world joined the president and first lady at the White House to salute the honorees: the surviving members of Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant; ballerina Martina Makarova, Dave Letterman, Dustin Hoffman and Buddy Guy.
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.
At the White House, 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, Obama quipped, “That worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitoes were getting in.”
All kidding aside, the president 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, at the Kennedy Center, singers Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman and others got most of the crowd on its feet singing Guy’s signature “Sweet Home Chicago,” while 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.”
Comedian Ray Romano didn’t let Obama get away without any criticism. In an homage to Letterman where he spoke of the host’s perseverance after having his first pilot cancelled, Romano joked about the 2012 presidential campaign.
“If you want to win the World Series, do you quit after losing one game? No!” Romano said. “Do you quit after losing one debate? No, Mr. President!”
In a cutaway to the president, Obama shook his head no.
Also performing during one of the tributes was Kid Rock, who actively supported GOP candidate Mitt Romney during the election. Describing his few minutes with President Obama, the singer told CNN: “It was nice. I saw the president tonight. He said, ‘I’m still here.’ I said, ‘No hard feelings.’ “