Letterman, Led Zeppelin among several honored at President’s gala

Led Zeppelin Credit: Wiki Commons

Led Zeppelin Credit: Wiki Commons

By Ashley Killough and Dan Merica

WASHINGTON (CNN) — An array of talents will be on display Sunday at the Kennedy Center Honors gala where President Barack Obama will toast the lifetime achievements of an iconic ballerina, a famed comedian, a timeless actor and two chart-topping musical acts.

[Gala will be broadcast on CBS on December 26, 2012 at 9:00-11:00 p.m., ET/PT]

In the 35th installment of the honorary event, late-night show host David Letterman, ballerina Natalia Makarova, actor Dustin Hoffman, blues musician Buddy Guy and the rock group Led Zeppelin will join the ranks of the top musicians, dancers and actors of their time.

Past honorees run the entertainment gamut — from the likes of Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery in the movie world, to Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan in music, to Ginger Rogers and Mikhail Baryshnikov in dance, among dozens of others.

The festivities will begin at a White House reception where Obama will make remarks about each of the award’s recipients. From there, the cadre of luminaries and guests will move to The Kennedy Center, a performing arts space overlooking the Potomac River, for an event dedicated to their respective talents.

This is the fourth time Obama has honored Kennedy Center award recipients. Last year’s group included singer Neil Diamond, composer Sonny Rollins, theater actor Barbara Cook, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and actress Meryl Streep.

While the 2011 pool of honorees had a noticeable music bent, the backgrounds in this year’s group are more diverse but equally talented.

Letterman, host of “The Late Show” on CBS, is being recognized for his 30 years in late-night television and will join a small group of past comedians who have won the award. In a press release, Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein described Letterman, 65, as “one of the most influential personalities in the history of television.”

With more than 5,000 broadcasts, Letterman, holds the title as the comedian with the longest late-night career in the United States, recently surpassing the industry’s previous standard-bearer, the late Johnny Carson.

In his witty style, Letterman joked about learning he was an award recipient.

“When I stopped laughing, I was very excited. This was great for my family; they think I’m working at a Jiffy Lube in Mexico,” he said on this program.

Hoffman, meanwhile, has become a household name with a resume that includes 50 movies, not to mention two Academy Awards for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Rain Man (1988).

While the 75-year-old actor has said he grew up thinking movie stars had to look like Rock Hudson, it didn’t take long for the Los Angeles native to get into acting and start a career that spans five decades and covers just about every genre of film.

Many of his titles will likely be featured in his tribute at the Kennedy Center, which is not far from the famous Watergate hotel — a site he knows well after playing the ambitious reporter, Carl Bernstein, in All The President’s Men (1976).

Russian-born Makarova is perhaps best known for leaving her mark on the production of La Bayadère, a ballet that dates back to 1877. She transformed the scene “Kingdom of the Shades,” and went on to stage the full production in theaters around the world.

Makarova, 72, is no stranger to the Kennedy Center. She won a Tony Award for best actress in a musical for the center’s 1984 production of “On Your Toes.”

The audience Sunday night will also feel the rhythm in performances honoring blues legend Buddy Guy. Born into a Louisiana sharecropper family, Guy eventually made Chicago his home at the peak of the blues era in the Windy City.

And with his distinct guitar sound, the six-time Grammy Award winner helped pioneer the electric blues with other legends including Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Count Obama as one of Guy’s biggest fans. The president sang “Sweet Home Chicago” with Guy, 76, at a White House event earlier this year, marking the second time Obama has sung publicly as president.

And the stage will continue to rock in a tribute to John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant — the three surviving members of the band Led Zeppelin. Famed drummer John Bonham passed away in 1980.

Having sold more than 100 million albums in the United States alone, the British band has churched out a number of classics, including “Whole Lotta Love,” “Thank You,” and the enduring song: “Stairway to Heaven.”

The trio is scheduled to join fellow honoree Letterman on the “The Late Show” on Monday.

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