Above the din, Joan Baez's voice soared, soft and clear and unaccompanied. It soared through the Georgetown house, under the Waterford chandeliers and over crowded conversations that faded for the words of her song, "If I Had Wings."
The occasion was Baez's reception-fund-raiser for Southeast Asian refugees, an issue that she has sung for, lobbied for, traveled to Southeast Asia for, and -- yesterday afternoon -- met with President Carter for.
It was a party where no one under-estimated the devastation that has left millions starving in Cambodia.
But it was also a party that crackled with an undercurrent of political electricity. Eunice Shriver, a Kennedy sister, was a co-hostess, and Ted Kennedy made a late appearance and a speech. And the president's son Chip came to represent the family name at a party where, as one guest put it, he was "outnumbered."
Then there were guests like conductor Leonard Bernstein -- whom everyone called "Lenny" -- in town conducting the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic for the next few weeks; Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.); the American Jewish Committee's Hyman Bookbinder; Israeli peace seeker Abie Nathan, currently trying on his own money and time to get food to the starving Cambodians; Rose Styron wife of author William Styron, and two Buddhist priests from Vietnam.
"I think all of us have to understand we are facing the greatest human tragedy of our lifetime perhaps since the Holocaust," said Kennedy, "and I think it is absolutely imperative that we as a society, as a government, exercise every bit of influence that we can to shake the world community, shake our citizens into action. I think all of us are frustrated by the niceties and complexities of international diplomacy that have meant the death and destruction of a people . . . ."
Said Baez: "We just have to take our Red Cross and say, 'Here we come.' It's risky, but I don't think they want to shoot at us."
Forty-five minuts before Kennedy took the floor. Chip Carter breezed in, smiling, relaxed, natty in suit coat and bright blue shirt, a Carter/Mondale button on his lapel. He was there as the guest of Baez.
"When someone said Chip Carter was here," said carol Shapiro, in whose house the party was held, "I thought they were joking."
And what would Chip say to Teddy, Chip's father's impending rival?
"Well, I might say 'hello' if he comes throught," said Chip Carter with a grin. "This isn't a political event."
But on a day when ambassador-at-large Dick Clark, the former senator from Iowa, resigned his administration post as coordinator of refugee affairs to go to work for Kennedy, politics was bound to be in the air. Clark got a terse note from Carter that read, "Frtz (Mondale) had reported to me you pledge to remain neutral in the political campaign and to devote your efforts to assisting refugees and other suffering people. I consider this work to be of transcendent importance. Therefore, I accept your resignation with regret, and appreciation."
"He'll be very helpful," said Eunice Shriver about Clark's working for Kennedy. Then she looked away and her voice trailed off.
"We really did start planning this reception in August," said Shriver. "I met Joan this summer in Hyannis, where she was singing at Melody Tent. She announced she was giving a percentage from the performance to the Boat People. I asked her up for dinner, and she told me she'd like to do this in Washington."
Before Kennedy spoke, as the celebrities milled around smiling, the picture lineup went something like this -- Eunice, Ted, Joan Baez, Chip Carter, Leonard Bernstein -- arms around each other, smiles.
After his speech, Kennedy grinned when asked about Chip Carter. "Well, I run into Chip a lot," he said to chuckles around him. "He's in Massachusetts a lot. He makes a lot of friends for himself and for his father."
Eunice Shriver said she "really had not discussed" her role in Kennedy's campaign with him yet. "We just made the announcement," she said, referring to Stephen Smith (her brother-in-law), who said on Monday that Kennedy would announce next week. "we haven't made any plans. What role do you think I should take? I guess I'll do whatever Teddy thinks is helpful."
There was an interesting mixture of society and professional and not-so-prominent political, with a sprinkling of the superprominent. The donation was $125 a person, so not many of the guests were actually from relief organizations for Southeast Asian refugees. (Many people simply sent in donations and did not attend the party, according to one organizer.)
"They're talking about Kennedy and the amount of press coverage here and how unusual it is," said Jennifer Phillips, who was there with her husband, Laughlin Phillips, director of the Phillips Collection. "Joan Baez hasn't been a big star in years."
But she was a star last night. Everyone from socialites to an Israeli colonel came by to clasp her hand, hug her, tell her to "keep it up."
"We support her wholeheartedly," saidChip Carter. (The President) thinks her work will change world opinion and help us to proceed." (Currently the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government is resisting international efforts to bring in food to the starving and sick Cambodians.)
"We're going to go in (to Cambodia) under the pretext that they will let us, "Carter continued "We hope they will change their minds.I can't say we'll go in without their permission."
Bernstein, in jacket, open-collar shirt and neck scarf, cooled, "It's a terribly pressing cause, and there's so much corruption in the means of rectifying it. Joan is so important -- she can cut through all that s- - -."
Baez, striking in magenta satin dress, her thick dark hair falling in soft waves around her face, said she had met that afternoon with President Carter for 10 minutes in the Oval Office to speak about Southeast Asian refugees. "I've never talked so fast," she said with a chuckle. "I suggested we get radical. Either we bluff our way in there or pretend we didn't hear Phnom Penh's reaction to distributing food."
Baez said Carter "didn't really say anything about this. But it wasn't a time for proposals. He listened. Just the fact that I was given a chance to see him and that he cared was as much as you could hope for in a meeting."