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HomeAsiaKorean Dressing, Irish Poetry and ‘American Pie’: A State Dinner of Harmony

Korean Dressing, Irish Poetry and ‘American Pie’: A State Dinner of Harmony

WASHINGTON — Presidents traditionally invite visiting foreign leaders to the White House to make statements to the cameras, make a toast at dinner, maybe even field a reporter’s questions. They don’t usually ask them to sing.

But President Biden was on the State Dining Room stage late Wednesday night, prompting South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul to perform one of his guest’s favorite songs, Don McLean’s “American Pie.” . Mr. Yun didn’t look like he needed much convincing.

And so the leader of more than 50 million South Koreans began singing one of the most famous American songs of modern times to the cheers of a crowd of diplomats and celebrities. Until then, during a long day of public appearances, Mr. Yoon had not spoken a word of English, carefully spoken through an interpreter, but he knew every word when he drove to his Chevy on the day of the music’s death. Used to croon about taking on the levee. .

The grand finale to the second state dinner of the Biden era made for one of the most memorable evenings at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The 80-year-old president, who was questioned about his age just hours earlier, pumped his fists and groaned with the crowd as did Mr. Yun.

“The next state dinner we’re going to have, you’re going to see the entertainment,” Mr. Biden told the audience, referring to Mr. Yun. “I had no idea you could sing,” he added, turning to his guest.

In fact, he did, or his staff did, because the whole thing was a planned surprise that had been carefully mapped out in advance but left off the official program for maximum effect. The President also presented Mr. Yoon with a guitar signed by Mr. McLean.

The moment was reminiscent of another tour with another pair of leaders. In 2006, President George W. Bush took with him Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, an avid Elvis Presley fan who wore his hair in a pompadour. Visiting Graceland in Tennessee – after which Mr. Koizumi sang “Love Me Tender” and other songs popularized by the king.

In the case of Mr. Biden and Mr. Yun, the two leaders tried to flatter each other throughout the evening. During the toast that opened the state dinner, Mr. Yoon went straight to Mr. Biden’s weak spot by quoting the president’s favorite Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. “Behavior that is admired is a path of power among people everywhere,” Mr. Yoon said.

If that wasn’t enough, the South Korean leader wrapped up his toast with what he called an old Irish saying: “A good friend is like a four-leaf clover – hard to find and lucky.” From.” This elicited “awwws” and applause from the crowd.

It was all four-leaf clover and bonhomie as the two Kim leaders put on a broad show of camaraderie, ignoring recent tensions over revelations of US spying on South Korean officials. The first lady, Jill Biden, prepared a classic American menu with a Korean twist.

Maryland crab cakes were accompanied by cabbage, fennel and cucumber slaw in gochujang vinaigrette. Yellow squash soup was followed by beef short ribs with butterbean grits, sorghum glazed carrots and pine nuts. And dessert was a banana split with fresh berries, gingersnap cookie crumble and doubling caramel.

The East Room, where the dinner was held, was decorated with cherry blossom arrangements, and the head table included stars like actress Angelina Jolie and Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim, as well as low luminaries like New York Senator Chuck Schumer. The Majority Leader who opted for a suit over a tuxedo. (“That’s as Tux-e as I get,” he explained.)

Before the dinner began, Vice President Kamala Harris, who brought her niece, Mina Harris, chatted with Ms. Jolie, who brought her 21-year-old son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt. Other guests included Samantha Cohen, daughter of Michael D. Cohen, former President Donald J. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer who supported him and provided testimony that led to a recent indictment in a hush money case. went

Ms. Kim, described by some as the greatest female snowboarder in history, admitted to being nervous as she entered the White House. “I’m so nervous,” she said. She revealed that she had lost her Olympic gold medal.

“I wasn’t wearing my medal,” he told reporters. “I don’t know where it is.”

The evening’s official entertainment was a medley of Broadway tunes sung by stage stars Norm Lewis, Lee Salonga and Jessica Vosk. They performed a fast set that got the audience excited. Coalition of the Willing rock band veteran Antony J. Blanken, who has a day gig as secretary of state but is best known by his name on Spotify. Ablinkonat that moment he looked like he could have jumped on stage to grab one of his guitars.

But as the Broadway stars wrapped up their final listed number, they offered an unannounced encore, saying they had heard that “American Pie” was one of Mr. Yoon’s favorites. Mr. Yoon drew applause as he performed the song, and when it was over, Jill Biden grabbed his arm and practically pushed him off the stage.

At the time, her husband told the South Korean leader, “We know this is one of your favorite songs, ‘American Pie.’

“Yes, it’s true,” Mr. Yoon said through a Korean translator. “When I was going to school, it was one of my favorite songs.”

“We want to hear you sing it,” Mr. Biden announced.

“It’s been a while but—” Mr. Yun replied, not really resisting.

And then the South Korean president took the microphone and began the first few verses of the song as the crowd went wild.

Mr. Biden was excited — but wary of another encore. “Don’t expect me to sing it!” They said.



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