White House Fetes Kenya With State Dinner

Lavish event was biggest of Biden's presidency
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 24, 2024 6:27 AM CDT
White House Fetes Kenya With State Dinner
Kenya's President William Ruto exchanges a toast with President Biden during a state dinner at the White House, Thursday, May 23, 2024.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Thursday's White House state dinner honoring Kenyan President William Ruto offered around 500 guests stunning DC views, a knockout menu, and a dose of celebrity star power. The gathering was the first White House state dinner for an African nation since 2008, and it was the sixth and largest of the state dinners thrown by Biden, the AP reports.

  • Country singer Brad Paisley showed up in his signature cowboy hat, and was wearing dual hats as both dinner guest and featured entertainer. The dinner entertainment mixed Paisley's country music and the gospel choir of Howard University. It was designed with the tastes of Ruto and his wife, Rachel, in mind, with first lady Jill Biden noting the Rutos' "love of gospel and country music." The Kenyan president is a former evangelist and often leads praise and worship songs when he speaks in churches in his country.

  • The menu featured fruitwood-smoked beef short ribs, poached lobster, chilled heirloom tomato soup and a white chocolate basket.
  • Guests made their red carpet arrival in an entryway adorned with red roses and hot pink orchids while Toto's hit "Africa" played on violin. The extra-long guest list did require cutting some corners: The typical presidential receiving line was nixed because it would have taken too long to get everyone through.
  • Guests dined in a sprawling, transparent pavilion made largely of glass that was erected on the South Lawn. It had sweeping views of the sun setting over the Washington Monument and, later, stars overhead.
  • Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, were on hand, as was another ex-president—Barack Obama—who popped by briefly early in the evening but didn't stick around. During his toast to Ruto, President Biden joked that attendees included "many members of the African diaspora, (including) one who just left, Barack."

  • Singer-songwriter Don McLean attended the festivities, as did Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, set in Africa. Other attendees including actor LeVar Burton, Melinda Gates, Sean Penn, Michaela Coel, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. NBC news anchor Lester Holt said it was his second state dinner, joking, "I don't get out much."
  • Kenya last had a White House state dinner in 2003. No African nation has had one since President George W. Bush honored Ghana's President John Kufuor five years after that.
(More White House State Dinner stories.)

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