When Heart Performed “Stairway To Heaven” Leaving Led Zeppelin Members In Tears
Witness the most emotional performance of Stairway To Heaven you’re ever likely to see. The twist? It isn’t performed by Led Zeppelin but rather by two members of Heart. When it comes to rock bands in the 1970s, Led Zeppelin and Heart were both very successful.
In 2012, Led Zeppelin’s contribution and impact were honoured by U.S. President Barack Obama, who awarded them the Kennedy Centre Honors. This award is given to people who have made a significant contribution to American culture. The list of former winners is very illustrious and includes Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ella Fitzgerald.
Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, was one of the most influential rock bands of the time, with many successful bands later admitting Zeppelin’s work inspired them. These artists are as diverse as Def Leppard, Metallica, Alice Cooper, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna, Beastie Boys and even Lady Gaga.
In addition, heart had the distinction of being the only widely successful all-female fronted rock band with a string of hits, including These Dreams, Alone and All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You.
The awards are bestowed at a gala held at the Kennedy Centre. In 2012, in honour of the band’s achievement, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart joined Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s son Jason to perform a stunning version of Stairway To Heaven. Although Heart had played Stairway before, it must have been extremely nerve-wracking to perform it in front of the band themselves, as well as the President and a host of celebrities and other dignitaries.
They needn’t have worried. The performance is incredible, full of passion and emotion. However, their amazing rendition is almost overshadowed by the reactions of the band. Robert Plant has tears in his eyes as he watches, and the band smiles at each other throughout, obviously lost in reminiscence. Another touching moment comes when the gospel choir accompanying Heart all put on black bowler hats in tribute to John Bonham, who tragically passed away in 1980. Jason ends the performance with tears in his eyes but never misses a beat.
Of course, the performance received a standing ovation. Throughout the song, the camera cuts to the audience, and every person is singing and dancing along. Led Zeppelin’s music touched so many lives, certainly far more than they ever realised. In a later interview with L.A. Weekly, Robert Plant explained the impact of that moment:
“When I saw Heart perform Stairway To Heaven, I just couldn’t believe that song had anything to do with this 64-year old man that was sitting next to John Paul Jones. I thought to myself, ‘This is me… How did this happen?'”
Ann and Nancy admitted it was scary playing such a beloved hit. When they met the band later, they were on tenterhooks waiting to hear what these rock legends thought of their performance. Robert Plant, in particular, has refused to play it in recent years because it was written when he was young, and he can no longer relate to that person. He feels it belongs in another time. There is another reason, though! As Nancy explains:
“At the dinner afterward, each member came up to us. Plant was like: ‘Oh my god, I’ve grown to hate that song so much because everybody murders it so badly. But you guys did great!’ Then Page told me: ‘You played that so well.'” I don’t think anyone could ask for better feedback than that. It’s certainly a performance we all wish we could have seen live.