Brad Paisley and Howard Gospel Choir to be the entertainment for state dinner as Bidens highlight US-Kenya ties

Country star Brad Paisley and the Howard Gospel Choir will provide the entertainment at a glitzy, black-tie state dinner at the White House on Thursday as President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden roll out the red carpet for Kenya President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto.

The choice of the singer and choir is a nod to their guests’ love of country and gospel music, the first lady’s office said.

“Distinguished songwriter and recording artist Brad Paisley and the highly acclaimed Howard Gospel Choir were selected by the First Lady to perform musical selections at the State Dinner,” the office of the first lady said in a statement shared first with CNN.

The statement continued, “Brad Paisley and the Howard Gospel Choir were chosen by Dr. Biden to honor President and First Lady Ruto’s love of Country and Gospel music, and in celebration of the continuing friendship between the United States and Kenya.”

A state visit is among the highest diplomatic tools a White House can employ to honor a top ally, with the meticulously planned event aimed at intertwining and highlighting American and Kenyan cultures as Biden seeks to emphasize the strong alliance between the two countries.

Biden and Ruto welcomed Kenyan and American business leaders to the White House on Wednesday as part of the African leader’s official state visit.

“I can’t think of a better way to kick off this visit,” Biden said. “Today as we honor 60 years of ties between our countries, it’s clear that our people are the true strength of this partnership. And a partnership that is working well. And nowhere is it more important than in the realm of innovation.”

He also thanked the leaders attending, telling them to “keep it up.”

This visit marks the first time an American president has hosted an African leader for a state visit since February 2008, when President George W. Bush hosted the president of Ghana.

Biden, who said he would visit the African continent “soon” in 2022, has yet to make good on that promise. But he has hailed cooperation with Africa and is seeking to build relationships with key leaders as a counter to Russia and China’s inroads on the continent. Jill Biden traveled to Namibia and Kenya in February 2023.

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The Grammy-winning Paisley previously performed for a black-tie dinner for bipartisan governors at the White House last year. And he joined Jill Biden for a visit to a pop-up Covid-19 vaccination site in Nashville in June 2021.

Paisley first performed at the White House in 2009 during the Obama administration as part of a music series. He recalled the emotion of singing the song “Welcome to the Future” in front of then-President Barack Obama.

“The last verse is about a kid in high school who’s having a difficult time, and who’s Black, and he has a cross burned in his yard for asking out the homecoming queen. And the line of the chorus is, ‘Wake up Martin Luther, welcome to the future,’” he wrote in a CNN blog post at the time.

He continued, “Being able to deliver that message personally to one of the people who ushered in this new era is really one of the most completely, artistically satisfying moments I’ve ever had.”

The first lady told reporters that Thursday’s state dinner will be held outdoors on the White House grounds.

“Tomorrow night we mark the 60th anniversary of the United States partnership with Kenya with an elegant dinner under the stars in a pavilion made almost entirely of glass looking up at our one sky,” Jill Biden said, even though rain is in the forecast for the Washington area. “While outside night surrounds us, inside guests will be brought together over the glow of candles in a space saturated with warm pinks and reds.”

The dinner will be held in a “transparent pavilion” on the South Lawn, according to the first lady’s office, that will be adorned with more than 1,000 candles.

“Tomorrow night we’ve created an experience that will feature the beautiful scenes of the White House and the Washington Monument that few get to enjoy,” White House social secretary Carlos Elizondo said.

There will be three courses during Thursday’s dinner – the first will be a chilled heirloom tomato soup. The main course for Thursday’s dinner will be a “best of both worlds” duo of butter-poached lobster and smoked beef short ribs, according to White House executive chef Cris Comerford. Some of the kale that the chef is using in Thursday’s dinner comes from the White House garden.

The tables for the dinner will be set with sequined lavender and floral-patterned linens, but White House china will not be used for the dinner since it is being held outdoors. Instead the White House rented dishes to use, according to the social secretary.

Event planner Bryan Rafanelli also helped the White House plan for the state dinner. His team also assisted with April’s White House state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, Yuko Kishida

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Sam Fossum contributed to this report.

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