It’s the state dinner that’s not really a state dinner but sort of is a state dinner.
“The president and Mrs. Obama welcome you to the White House on the occasion of U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit,” reads the official program. But Tuesday night’s formal fete for 51 African heads of state (plus their spouses and other big wigs) isn’t being billed as a state dinner, per se, despite the super-sized protocol.
“It’s sort of like a state dinner times 50,” White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford told CNN on Monday. Comerford is preparing a menu featuring American classics with “an African touch.”
Peter Selfridge, the chief of protocol, echoed that sentiment when he told The Washington Post: “We strive to throw out the red carpet, both literally and figuratively, from their arrival point at the airport to the end of the summit. Just multiply everything by 50.”
According to White House aides, the Obamas will not greet their guests as they arrive at the North Portico, saving the first couple about an hour and a half of smiling and small talk. That task will go to Selfridge.
As with past diplomatic soirees, the sit-down dinner will be held under a massive tent on the South Lawn. The president will give a brief toast, most likely filled with platitudes and a few softball punch lines expanding on the three-day summit’s theme of “Investing in the Next Generation.”
No word on who will have the honor of sitting at the head table, but White House aides said the president is “committed to one-on-one chats with each leader during the dinner,” according to CNN.
Now, finally, we get to the fun stuff.
Grammy winner Lionel Richie, who celebrated his 65th birthday at Cafe Milano in July, will provide the night’s entertainment. The official program highlights Richie’s hits “All Night Long,” “Hello” and “Say You (Say Me).” The track titles suggest an evening of ballads and up-tempo beats.
So, will they or won’t they — dance, that is? If this “state” dinner is anything like the last one, no moves will be busted. At a state dinner in February dancing was nixed mainly because France’s President Francois Hollande arrived stag, having just gone through a very public break-up. With no partnering drama (that we know of) under the tent on the South Lawn, Richie just might get the crowd on its feet.
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