WASHINGTON — David Letterman's "stupid human tricks" and Top 10 lists vaulted into the ranks of cultural acclaim Sunday night as the late-night comedian received this year's Kennedy Center Honors with rock band Led Zeppelin, an actor, a ballerina and a bluesman.

Stars from New York, Hollywood and the music world joined President Barack Obama at the White House on Sunday night to salute the honorees, whose ranks also include actor Dustin Hoffman, Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy and ballerina Natalia Makarova.

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.

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, he quipped, "That worked until his parents started wondering how all the mosquitoes were getting in."

The president thanked the members of Led Zeppelin for behaving themselves at the White House given their history of "hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around."

Obama noted Letterman's humble beginnings as an Indianapolis weatherman who once reported the city was being pelted by hail `the size of canned hams.'"

"It's one of the highlights of his career," he said.

All kidding aside, Obama 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 on the red carpet, Letterman said he was thrilled by the recognition and to visit Obama at the White House.bz

"It supersedes everything, honestly," he said. "I haven't won that many awards."

During the show, comedian Tina Fey said she grew up watching her mom laugh at Letterman as he brought on "an endless parade of weirdos."

"Who was this Dave Letterman guy?" Fey said. "Was he a brilliant, subtle passive-aggressive parody of a talk show host? Or just some Midwestern goon who was a little bit off? Time has proven that there's just really no way of knowing."

Alec Baldwin offered a Top 10 reasons Letterman was winning the award, including the fact that he didn't leave late night for a six-month stint in primetime – a not-so-subtle dig at rival Jay Leno.

Jimmy Kimmel, who will soon compete head-to-head with Letterman on ABC, said he fell in love with Letterman early in life and even had a "Late Night" cake on his 16th birthday.

"To me it wasn't just a TV show," Kimmel said. "It was the reason I would fail to make love to a live woman for many, many years."

For Buddy Guy, singers Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman and others got most of the crowd on its feet singing Guy's signature "Sweet Home Chicago."

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."

Robert De Niro saluted Hoffman, saying he had changed acting, never took any shortcuts and was brave enough to be a perfectionist.

"Before Dustin burst on the scene, it was pretty much OK for movie stars to show up, read their lines and, if the director insisted, act a little," De Niro said. "But then Dustin came along – and he just had to get everything right."

By the end of the night, the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock and Lenny Kravitz got the crowd moving to some of Zeppelin's hits at the Kennedy Center.

Jack Black declared Zeppelin the "greatest rock and roll band of all time."

"That's right. Better than the Beatles. Better than the Stones. Even better than Tenacious D," he said. "And that's not opinion – that's fact."

For the finale, Heart's Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson sang "Stairway to Heaven," accompanied by a full choir and Jason Bonham, son of the late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.

Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and his bandmates John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page seemed moved by the show.

Meryl Streep first introduced the honorees Saturday as they received the award medallions during a formal dinner at the U.S. State Department hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton said ballerina Makarova "risked everything to have the freedom to dance the way she wanted to dance" when she defected from the Soviet Union in 1970.

Makarova made her debut with the American Ballet Theatre and later was the first exiled artist to return to the Soviet Union before its fall to dance with the Kirov Ballet.

Clinton also took special note of Letterman, saying he must be wondering what he's doing in a crowd of talented artists and musicians.

"Dave and I have a history," she said. "I have been a guest on his show several times, and if you include references to my pant suits, I'm on at least once a week."

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  • 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree Natalia Makarova, front row, second right, reacts to all the photos being taken during a group photo after the State Department Dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors gala Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. From left are former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Paul Jones, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Page, Makarova, Robert Plant, Dustin Hoffman and David Letterman. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf) <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> An earlier version of this caption had an incorrect reference to the name of John Paul Jones.</em>

  • 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)

  • President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipient actor and director Dustin Hoffman, center, during a reception hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the honorees in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. On the left is honoree David Letterman. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • The 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipients, rock band Led Zeppelin, guitarist Jimmy Page, right, and singer Robert Plant, leave a reception hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the honorees in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • Kennedy Center Honoree Natalia Makarova arrives with her son, Andrei Karkar, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle Obama, second from right, with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipients, from left, rock band Led Zeppelin keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones, singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, comedian and television host David Letterman, bluesman Buddy Guy, ballerina Natalia Makarova and actor and director Dustin Hoffman, give their applause during the Kennedy Center Honors Gala at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • Kennedy Center Honoree Buddy Guy arrives at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle Obama, second from right, with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipients, ballerina Natalia Makarova, left, and actor and director Dustin Hoffman, stand as the National Anthem is played during the Kennedy Center Honors Gala at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree David Letterman, and his wife, Regina, arrive at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Rock band Led Zeppelin, from left, keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones, singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, stand as the Star Spangled Banner is played during the Kennedy Center Honors Gala at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. While Led Zeppelin is being honored as a band, surviving members Jones, Page, and Plant, each received the Kennedy Center Honors. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • Actor Alec Baldwin and wife, Hilaria, arrive at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Former Kennedy Center Honoree Robert DeNiro arrives with his wife, Grace Hightower at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Actress Tina Fey arrives at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Comedian Stephen Colbert and wife, Evelyn Colbert, arrive at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Kennedy Center Honoree Dustin Hoffman arrives with his wife, Lisa, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Kennedy Center Honoree Buddy Guy arrives at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Preformance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Actor and director Dustin Hoffman, 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, center, leaves a reception hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the honorees in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • President Barack Obama, second from right, watches as 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, David Letterman, second from left, kisses the hand of Natalia Makarova, left, during a reception hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the honorees in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. On the right is actor Dustin Hoffman. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • President Barack 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, at the conclusion of a reception hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the honorees in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. While Led Zeppelin is being honored as a band, surviving members John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant, each received the Kennedy Center Honors. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • President Barack Obama with 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, comedian and television host David Letterman, actor and director Dustin Hoffman and bluesman Buddy Guy, speaks during a reception hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the honorees in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. While Led Zeppelin is being honored as a band, surviving members John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant, each received the Kennedy Center Honors. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree Natalia Makarova, right, congratulates fellow honoree Dustin Hoffman, second from right, as he stands with honorees Buddy Guy, left, and Robert Plant, after the State Department Dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors gala Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pose for a photo after the State Department Dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors gala Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pose for a photo after the State Department Dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors gala Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

  • 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree Dustin Hoffman, center, arrives at the State Department with his family for the Kennedy Center Honors Gala Dinner on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)