Thursday, August 4, 2011

All The Details: Inside President Obama's 50th Birthday Party At The White House

Yes, they did the Electric Slide and the Congo: Stevie Wonder, Chris Rock, Jay- Z, Charles Barkley, Tom Hanks, Emmitt Smith, Grant Hill, Whoopi Goldberg, and other celebs dine and dance with the President and First Lady...

President Obama
and his A-list pals danced barefoot in the East Room on Thursday night, after dining in the dramatically lit Rose Garden to celebrate his milestone 50th birthday. Obama Foodorama was told by guests who attended the "fabulous" but "casual" five-hour party for more than 200 people that the President "let down his hair" and literally danced for hours, finally leaving his own party shortly before midnight.

Stevie Wonder gave a "surprise" performance during the celebration after dining with the President and First Lady Obama, leading the crowd in a soulful rendition of "Happy Birthday." Wonder's hit "You and I" was the President and Mrs. Obama's wedding song. Guests included Jay-Z; Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson; Chris Rock; hoops legends Charles Barkley and Grant Hill; Whoopi Goldberg; Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith; Steve Harvey; and actor Hill Harper. He's one of the President's closest chums from Harvard law school, and star of CSI: NY. Jazz great Herbie Hancock and his ensemble played four songs, as first reported here; R & B singer Ledisi dazzled the crowd with two selections.

The night was balmy, and when dinner was done, DJ Cassidy spun dance tunes--"like at a Bar Mitzvah," said one guest. The rug was rolled back in the East Room and the chairs pushed aside so guests could dance, led by the President and Mrs. Obama.

"'I'm going to challenge you all to dance,' the President said, and everyone did," said the guest.

That's when everyone's shoes came off, and things kicked into high gear with the barefoot jammin'--the President himself reportedly danced for three full hours. Among other dances, guests did the Electric Slide, which impressed Chris Rock so much he tweeted about it:

"Just left the Presidents birthday party at the White House. Herbie Hancock played, Stevie Wonder sang and yes they did the electric slide. A great night." Rock wrote (sic).

The President also led a huge Conga line around the East Room, pulling in everyone in his path, according to one observer.

"He was chill, and like, 'how you doin, man? Come dance!,'" reported one attendee. "He put everyone at ease."

The celebration was a family affair, too: Obama daughters Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10, mingled with the grown-ups under the watchful eyes of their grandmother, Mrs. Marian Robinson, and their godmother, Eleanor "Mama Kaye" Wilson.

The guests toasted the President throughout the night. Also on hand to mark the Presidential milestone were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the President's former Chief of Staff. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former governors Bill Richardson and Tim Kaine, and Mr. Obama's staunchest allies in the debt battle--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Senior White House staff also celebrated: Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Cecelia Munoz, John Brennan, and Valerie Jarrett. Mrs. Obama's former Chief of Staff, Susan Sher, flew in from Chicago, as did two of the President's closest pals: Dr. Eric Whitaker, University of Chicago Hospital Vice-President, and The Parking Spot President and CEO Marty Nesbitt. Campaign fundraiser Andy Spahn was spotted, too. Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives/assistant chef Sam Kass wasn't on cooking duty, and joined the guests.

On the menu...and the party favors

There was "not a tie in sight" for the birthday dinner, according to one guest; men wore light summer-weight button downs and trousers, and women were attired in summer dresses--many taking their fashion cue from Mrs. Obama, and going sleeveless. Dinner was grilled chicken and steak, ribs, and hot dogs, with salad made with fresh greens plucked from Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden, as well as vegetable sides, accompanied by American wines. There were about twenty tables for ten, covered with simple gray cloths, and anchored by sprays of yellow flowers and greens in the Rose Garden. Birthday cake was served (choc0late), of course, and a selection of fruit pies: Huckleberry, peach, cherry and apple. The meat grilling started in the early afternoon, outdoors at the White House.

Party favors for departing revelers were tucked into small black paper shopping bags with a shining gold Presidential seal on one side. The President and Mrs. Obama paid for the party out of their own pockets, according to a White House aide.

The politically unfortunate optics of throwing a big 50th birthday party for President Obama when his poll numbers are dropping as fast as the stock market were not lost on the White House, so the President's shindig was not listed on his official Thursday schedule, and it was closed to press. But the big Five-Oh only comes around once, and the party was a long one--guests were screened through the first security check point starting at around 5:00 PM and were still straggling out of the White House after midnight, with a number of the women guests spotted carrying their shoes, thanks to all the dancing.

Thursday's bash was the President's fifth birthday party--he was toasted earlier in the day in the Blue Room by White House aides as well as family and friends, as first reported by Lynn Sweet of Chicago Sun-Times. On Wednesday, the President celebrated his birthday early in his hometown, Chicago, with three different campaign fundraising events, where thousands of supporters poured plenty of cash into campaign coffers. Hancock and his ensemble played for those events, too, as did Jennifer Hudson and rock band OK Go. (Above: The President, Hancock, and a bandmember from OK Go on Wednesday)

The First Family will spend this weekend at the Presidential retreat, Camp David, in Maryland.

Update: After Obama Foodorama posted this story shortly after midnight, Politico posted an a story at 7:43 Am EDT about the birthday party, adding to the guest list: Gayle King, who celebrated with President Obama for his 49th; Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk; Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz; former press secretary Robert Gibbs; David Plouffe; former Senior Advisor David Axelrod; former Social Secretary and now Deputy Campaign Manager Juianna Smoot; White House aides Bob Bauer, Denis McDonough, Michael Strautmanis, Pete Rouse, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, First Lady's Chief of Staff Tina Tchen.

*This post was also updated with new info after more party guests went on the record.

*AP photo of the President and Hancock

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