Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
"This is not my regular line of work," said master of ceremonies Jimmy Carter. Like a real pro, however, he paused just the right length of time to let the laughter run down before adding his second punch line: "Some people might think I do this better."
Few things are done better in Washington than Monday night's entertainment at the White House. The music was country - the kind of music Carter said he had heard "as a farm boy in Deep-South Georgia."
When the regularly scheduled musical program was finished, and all the guests had been fed, and everyone who wanted a picture taken with the present and his wife had been satisfied, the party moved back into the East Room for an impromptu country jam session where Carter's skills as a master of ceremonies emerged spontaneously.
The evening, a reception for members of the Country Music Association, had a downhome feeling that seldom is observed in the chaste white rooms of the presidential residence, with Carter and his wife acting like kissin' cousins to their 200 guests.
The originally scheduled concert featured big-name stars Loretta Lynn, who campaigned Twitty and Tom T. Hall. After dinner - a cold buffet which featured not a single hominy grit or black-eyed pea but roast beef, shrimp and crab, pate maison, poached cold salmon with green sauce, brie with almonds, strawberry tarts and cream puffs - some of the lesser known but excellent singers associated with Carter's campaign gave rousing performances.
They included James Talley, Larry Gatlin, Gary and Teri Morris, and Charlie Daniels, and the atmosphere was like that of the political rallies during Carter's campaign.
The night was heavy with nostalgia; many of the performers were old friends who had worked with Carter during his presidential campaign, and he obviously felt at ease.
Early in the performance, Press Secretary Jody Powell and the president slipped out of the East Room, where the concert was held - to make a call to the Senate, Powell explained later. The row of seats reserved for members of the Senate was empty during most of the concert. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif) explained that the cause of the delay was nothing important - "Just trying to mop up on Panama."
The night became a replay of the Carter campaign at the end of this second concert when Gary Morris began a spoken voice-over in the "American Trilogy" while his wife Teri hummed "Glory, ground, hallelujah" in the back ground. In a solemn but folksy voice, Morris intoned a sort of campaign pep-talk: "He has stood up and faced the issues, and he has been brave enough to do it in his own way, and I'm damn proud to have worked for the president of the United States, Mr. Jimmy Carter."
Another impromptu performer, Charlie Daniels, introduced his set by saying, "It sure is nice to have a president who talks with a Southern accent and smiles." Introducing him, Carter recalled that "when I was broke and didn't have any money to run my campaign, Charlie Daniels gave a benefit performance for me. I might not be president today without his help."
The Carter sat together in the front row, calling out requests and exchanging remarks with the performers during the informal concert. They ran up on the stage between numbers, hugging and kissing the musicians and giving every sign of sheer delight.