At a star-studded gala focused on the Holocaust and featuring US President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Bruce Springsteen chose to serenade the crowd with his 1978 track “The Promised Land,” a bleak, powerful staple of his live act whose lyrics surely resonated.

Springsteen was appearing at a Los Angeles event to honor the 20th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation, which is dedicated to gathering video testimony from survivors and other Holocaust witnesses.

Obama, who received the foundation’s Ambassador for Humanity Award, used his time at the podium to rally against anti-Semitism and defend Israel.

Spielberg called Springsteen “this nation’s hardest working lyrical poet for our common humanity” and remarked, “I think anyone who has a boss wishes it was you.”

Springsteen introduced “The Promised Land” in suitably somber mood, saying that “songwriters are the keepers of memory, the conservators of emotional memory. Before we can write, we listen. We listen to the voices of the dead. We listen to the voices of the living. The dead are always speaking to the living.”

The Boss, playing solo on acoustic guitar and harmonica, also performed a more upbeat number, “Dancing in the Dark.”

Obama listened from a table he shared with Spielberg, host Conan O’Brien, Barbra Streisand and Liam Neeson, who played Oskar Schindler in Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning Holocaust film, “Schindler’s List.”

Some 1,300 celebrities, notables and guests were on hand for the occasion. And even at a tony Holocaust event, there was someone in the crowd who shouted, “I love you Bruce.”

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.