Whispers of a big bash began to swirl early Thursday morning (on the president’s actual birthday), but the White House, which is typically tight-lipped about the first family’s personal party plans, did not confirm the event until just hours before guests were set to arrive.
At about 4 p.m. a brief statement was released revealing just the barest of details, checking off all the necessary boxes (who, what, where, when, why and how) for the next day’s news.
“This evening the First Lady is hosting a 55th birthday celebration for the President at the White House,” the statement read. “The guest list includes a large number of family members and friends to mark the occasion. The private event will be paid for with the family’s personal funds.”
And just who are these “friends,” you ask?
On the guest list were National Basketball Association legend Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie; “Today” show host Al Roker and his wife, journalist Deborah Roberts; actor Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, actress LaTanya Richardson; “Star Wars” creator George Lucas; talk show queen Ellen DeGeneres, and her wife, actress Portia De Rossi; former basketball star and Obama’s golfing buddy Alonzo Mourning; music icon Stevie Wonder; former Beatle Paul McCartney; singer Usher; singer Nick Jonas; rapper Kendrick Lamar; fashion designer Jason Wu; actress Alfre Woodard; media mogul Oprah Winfrey; actress Sarah Jessica Parker; singer Jennifer Hudson; rapper Jay Z and this singer named Beyoncé, perhaps you’ve heard of her.
Rounding out the list crowded with celebrities were politico types like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s former chief of staff), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, perhaps you’ve heard of her.
Now the lack of star power at the state dinner in honor of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes a lot more sense. The optics of having two star-studded bashes at the White House in one week would have been far from ideal for the Obamas, who, despite their highest profiles, also relish in their curated down-to-earthiness.
Usher was set to perform (no word yet whether Stevie and Beyoncé joined him on stage) and dancing shoes were once again a must. The Obamas like a dance party. At the first lady’s 50th birthday bash two years ago, guests (many of whom made the cut again) were advised explicitly to bring footwear conducive to getting jiggy with it. Roker described that night as “literally a house party that happened to be at the White House.” On Friday the 500 lucky invitees reportedly boogied until nearly 3 a.m.
Cellphones and social media during the festivities are always a no-no, so guests aren’t afraid to let their hair down. But the president revealed at a 2014 fundraiser that singer Janelle Monae, a frequent White House visitor, has video evidence of the commander in chief’s sweet moves at the first lady’s birthday two years ago.
“And I have to say nice things about her because she may be the only person in possession of a video in which I try to keep up with her and Usher on the dance floor,” Obama said of Monae. “Now, this is top secret. She has promised that this will never be released. But she can blackmail me at any time.”
So there just may be video evidence of some epic dance battle between Jay Z, Obama and Kendrick Lamar lurking somewhere on the Internet — we hope.
The night before the big blowout, the first couple pre-gamed on the president’s actual birthday with dinner at the one of their favorite haunts, Georgetown’s Fiola Mare. They sat down to a three and a half-hour meal and when they left, the president was serenaded by a crowd of spectators waiting outside the waterfront restaurant. Not exactly a “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” from Beyoncé, but not bad either.