Ann and Nancy Wilson, live native the Kennedy center in 2012. Photo: CBS photo Archive/CBS via Getty pictures
As has actually been the unavoidable trend for every quite celebration in 2020, this December’s yearly Kennedy center Honors to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, depriving viewers of more wondrous sights such together that time Aretha Franklin to reduce her fur coat come the floor or when large Bird redefined what it means to stay a sash. The Center’s 2020 recipients had actually yet to be called prior come the postponement (the arrangement is to perform a “reimagined” version of the show in the spring), which, by our logic, way one thing: we will instead be honoring Ann Wilson’s virtuosic cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway come Heaven” native the 2012 ceremony, which in chin deserves to be inducted into some type of cultural canon, possibly also awarded the Presidential Medal that Freedom.

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As the lore famously walk — and to be concise, for fear of spoiling the magnificent moment for new viewers — Wilson and also her fellow Heart sister, Nancy Wilson, to be recruited to do this “Stairway come Heaven” cover together a stunningly big orchestra and also choir section, i beg your pardon crescendos to the suggest of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones being relocated to miscellaneous points that weepiness and also pride. (We’re specifically fond of page mouthing fuck! when the second choir expose itself.) completing the lineup was guitarist Shane Fontayne and also drummer Jason Bonham, who, as you deserve to probably surmise, is the son of Led Zeppelin’s departed man Bonham.

In the taking place years, this variation of “Stairway come Heaven” has typically been regarded as a — if not the — definitive Led Zeppelin cover, i beg your pardon is all the much more remarkable after ~ Wilson revealed come in a current interview that her rehearsal time barely gone beyond an hour. But if you still need additional confirmation, just wait till the camera zooms in ~ above Plant’s significantly watery eyes. One of two people way, marvel in ~ both the sheathe and Wilson’s storage of that beloved, award-worthy performance eight year later, in conversation through the rock god herself.

So, I’ll begin by speak I’ve more than likely watched this cover around a hundred times, and also each time I discover myself getting emotional at the same moment over and also over again. It’s favor clockwork. Perform you regularly revisit this particular performance in her life?I haven’t checked out it that countless times. <Laughs.> but I’ve watched it a lot since it pops increase on society media an extremely often and also I obtain sucked into watching that again and also again. It’s surreal to me since my experience of those moments to be from a whole different perspective. It was prefer I was up onstage and also I was not even … i was taking treatment to not pay fist to anything but the exact moment. Ns wasn’t going, Wow, the Obamas room out there! The males from Led Zeppelin space out there! I wasn’t doing that, due to the fact that I wanted to save my spirit focused. It to be a moment of high visibility in my life. I continue to watch it in awe, because I wasn’t aware of the result it was having at the time.

Prior to being approached for this, where did Led Zeppelin fit within your pantheon that influences? And, being a singer, Robert Plant?I credit transaction Robert Plant because that demonstrating come me the you might step exterior the cultural norms of what a chick deserve to sing and also what a dude have the right to sing. He never paid attention to that. Once I came to be in a band, and also the band want to carry out Led Zeppelin covers, nobody of the guys might sing the high. It fell to me to song those songs. Ns was a young 20-something mrs copying Robert Plant and that verified me my absent voice. I really offer him every one of the credit transaction for helping me rest through and also being able to have that confidence.

How did the Kennedy center present this idea come you? walk they offer “Stairway come Heaven” upfront, or go they provide you a few songs to consider?They discussed songs when they approached us. They provided us one invitation through our management. Or rather, that was means more cryptic than that. It was like, “You’re being taken into consideration for this really important event.” we were dazzling to hear indigenous them however figured they would certainly ask because that something much more typical, prefer a “Rock and Roll” cover, which is sort of prefer “Johnny B. Goode” on steroids. Of course we accepted and also said wednesday be more than happy to play everything they’d want. It was only, like, numerous days prior to the actual event when they said “Stairway to Heaven.” That minute was yes, really something. Ns thought, Fuck. This is gonna it is in a big thing. That tune is nearly holy. Girlfriend don’t desire to carry out anything wrong; you want to do every little thing super right. I knew “Stairway come Heaven” would be the perfect hymn come fill the venue with, because it’s a really elite, beautiful, and also classical venue. The band more than likely suspected who would carry out it, but I doubt they establish it was going to it is in us. Jeff Beck was initially going to do the guitar for Shane Fontayne. As it was, Jeff was also there to honor Buddy Guy. The does his own thing; Jeff is his very own element. It just didn’t occupational out through him.

How much rehearsal time did girlfriend have?We go in because that a rehearsal the day before and also the day of. That’s all the rehearsal we really had. The choir and the smaller choral group were there a lot longer than us were. We were probably up there because that 30 or 45 minutes, not also a complete hour. It was quite amazing and really professionally done, of course. There were probably 80 people associated in total. The day of they likewise take you to the White House, wherein you go to a reception and meet the Obamas and shake their hands. It’s an extremely thrilling and a dream. That the Christmas season, for this reason the place was every dressed up. Nancy and also I took our larger sister through us, and also when us were stand in the protection line waiting to go into the White House, us looked in ~ each various other at us and also said, “Yup, mom and dad would certainly be smiling under at this one.”

Even as seasoned absent stars, did friend or Nancy find yourselves nervous the evening?Yeah, we both were. There was a possibility that both of us could’ve liquified into nerves, so us turned and looked at each other right before we to walk out and said, “We’re no going come think about this appropriate now and also we’re going to save our eyes on the ball.” I had actually been learning and also studying meditation at the point, and I told her to do the thing … you have a bowl of water and also you’re holding it and also you don’t desire to spill any, therefore you just concentrate top top the bowl of water. The key of water in this situation was the song. <Laughs.> and then we’d freak out afterwards. And we did!

Before you were privy come the band’s reactions, what room your memories indigenous those eight minutes on the stage? walk you feel confident that you completed something spectacular? I actually felt every 2nd of it as a real, not to overstate it, yet pretty damn close to orgasmic in regards to bliss. I felt wide awake and alive, and I feel the emotional contents of the song all the means down to the ground. That was yes, really authentic. The emotions involved in performing that were wide awake and also in the moment.

What magnified that authenticity?The beauty, beauty of the song and also the poetry of the lyrics. “Stairway come Heaven” to represent a whole universe the Led Zeppelin and also so many human being love the song. Everyone thinks the they recognize what it method and have actually their own small idea around how to interpret it, but there’s something around the city of that track that’s really hopeful and also upbeat. Something about unity. Hey, yes sir a far better day coming. That post is old and pure and universal. That’s what ns felt performing it. It is why I practically teared up singing it — it’s so beautiful.

What to be your interaction with the band prefer afterwards? What go they say?After the display there was a dinner for all of us, and all of the world who performed to be there with the honorees. Robert, Jimmy, and also John Paul were having actually dinner next to us and Robert claimed to me, “I normally hate it as soon as people try to covering ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ however I choose your version.” That expected so lot to me, due to the fact that it could’ve gone any kind of way, friend know? I’ve operated with man Paul before, and he’s together a gentleman. He was also friendly and also open around it, together was Jimmy. Listen, Robert and Jimmy space the guardians of the Zeppelin gate. Girlfriend really want approval indigenous them.

The visual elements of the cover, the course, elevate it to legendary condition — Robert weeps, when Jimmy and also John Paul fluctuate between pride and introspection. Not to be an armchair psychologist, however what do you think was going v their minds? their reactions spoke to an ext than just absorbing a song.When you inspect out their reactions when the tune is gift performed, you can see how different they are. Jimmy is smiley and also twinkly. Robert is emotional. John Paul is both. Ns think Robert looked down and also saw Jason, that was simply a child as soon as Led Zeppelin was with each other … the was probably running around during their tape rehearsals together a small tyke. Because that Robert to look down and also see the on north at the Kennedy Center, this big production the their many beautiful song, must have been an extremely emotional. It most likely brought earlier a most nice memories.

I favor to think you will do it been wait years come understand and also feel what that was like for others to hear to your music, and also you finally gave that emotion to them.Yeah, I’d agree with that. Our manufacturing of “Stairway come Heaven” was most likely the biggest and most epic one I’ve ever before seen, anywhere. That would be a very cool method for them come witness other human being covering your song, and what the song means to others.

When you clock it back, is there a moment that still gives you goosebumps? My special moment is as soon as the track goes native the much more gentle parts right into the rock parts. The goes with this gate of introspective to being big, muscular, aggressive, and soulful. The was my favourite part. Emotion that power coil up and also then open.

Have her views that the performance readjusted over the past eight years? ns ask since I’ve never encountered anyone that didn’t think this was either a perfect or critical cover.I need to admit the the border of that surprised me. Ns knew it to be going to it is in a beautiful performance, but I didn’t understand it to be going come hit for this reason hard. It hit listener not just with your ears, however in their hearts and souls. Ns wish friend could’ve seen that audience. The was complete of every kinds of luminaries — Yo Yo Ma, Dustin Hoffman, friend Guy, David Letterman, Bonnie Raitt, every one of these exceptionally important world were there. Everybody to be misty. The didn’t issue what genre they were in. Everybody was every misty once that was going on. I’ll never forget that. It was the most beautiful thing.

I feel damaging for whoever had to follow you.

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It was the males from Foo fighters doing “Rock and Roll” and also a few other associated songs.

They didn’t was standing a chance, walk they, Ann?I don’t desire to diss anyone’s performance, but yeah, castle couldn’t was standing up beside us. <Laughs.>