Obama salutes Kennedy Center honorees

President Obama is applauded by the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipients, from left, rock band Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, and keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones, ballerina Natalia Makarova and comedian and television host David Letterman in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

President Obama saluted this year's Kennedy Center honorees at a White House reception tonight, just before they were honored by their fellow celebrities at a show that annually is the hottest ticket in Washington.

The honorees - late night talk show host David Letterman, actor Dustin Hoffman, the rock band Led Zeppelin, blues musician Buddy Guy and Russian ballerina Natalia Makarova - were feted by Mr. Obama in the East Room this evening.

Michelle Obama also attended the reception along with celebrities such as Alec Baldwin, Jack Black, Itzhak Perlman, Lenny Kravitz, Ray Romano, Aretha Franklin, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Jimmy Kimmel, Morgan Freeman and Robert De Niro.

The president spoke about each of the honorees and took the opportunity to jab a couple of them, especially, Letterman, the one guy who jabs famous people each night on his show.

"It's different when you're not the one with the mic, isn't it, Dave?" Mr. Obama said to laughter. "I'd also point out it's a lot warmer here than it is on Dave's set," the president added, referring to the frigid temperature inside the Ed Sullivan Theater, per Letterman's demand.

"Tonight we honor David Letterman, who has always offered us an authentic piece of himself -- sometimes cranky, often self-deprecating, always funny," Mr. Obama continued. "And those of you who have been on his show know he is also a true gentleman."

Actress Meryl Streep uses her iPhone to get a photo of her and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton following the State Department Dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors gala Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the State Department in Washington.
Actress Meryl Streep uses her iPhone to get a photo of her and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton following the State Department Dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors gala Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the State Department in Washington.
AP Photo/Kevin Wolf

Later, following the president's remarks about Makarova, Led Zeppelin was next on the list.

"I worked with the speechwriters -- there is no smooth transition from ballet to Led Zeppelin," he quipped. "We were trying to work the 'Stairway To Heaven' metaphor and it didn't work," the president added, referring to one of the group's most famous songs.

Mr. Obama wasn't done with the jokes.

"Of course, these guys also redefined the rock and roll lifestyle. We do not have video of this," he said to laughter. "But there was some hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around. So it's fitting that we're doing this in a room with windows that are about three inches thick -- and Secret Service all around. So, guys, just settle down."

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center on December 2, 2012 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center on December 2, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images/Brendan Hoffman

Turning serious, the president wrapped up by pointing out, "each of us can remember a moment when the people on this stage touched our lives. Maybe they didn't lead us to become performers ourselves. But maybe they 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. "

The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast December 26 on CBS.

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBSNews.com's Executive Editor, Washington.

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