Obamas Host Prince and Stevie Wonder at White House ‘On Their Own Dime’

The president is getting flack for holding a private party at his house.


The president is getting flack for holding a private party at his house.

The Hill (“White House defends private Prince party“):

The White House on Monday defended a private concert over the weekend featuring Prince and Stevie Wonder, saying the Obamas paid for it themselves.

Around 500 people attended the event, which was not disclosed on the president’s public schedule. Press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed the first couple hosted a private party for their friends and said they “did it on their own dime.”

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, singer Ciara, and the Rev. Al Sharpton were among those in attendance. The guest list reportedly also  included powerful business figures such as Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein and American Express CEO Ken Chenault.

Given the size of the party and the influential guest list, Earnest was asked why the event was not made public. The spokesman said hosting a private event, while an “appropriate thing” to do, is “not part of the responsibilities of the president and first lady.”

“The president and the first lady are going to reserve the right to host private parties at the White House, and they did it on their own dime,” he said.

He said the White House would not release a guest list.

While the gathering was something of a collection of strange bedfollows, news of it wouldn’t strike me as even remotely unusual. Presidents have been hosting celebrities and corporate bigwigs at the White House for as long as I can remember—and actually longer. I vaguely remember Jimmy Carter having Willie Nelson over in the 1970s and have seen pictures of Elvis at the Nixon White House. I don’t offhand recall the venue of JFK’s parties with Marilyn Monroe  but gather the guest list was considerably smaller.

The odd thing here is the insistence that the Obama’s paid for all of this out of pocket. That’s simply absurd.

To be sure, the Obamas are rather well off and can certainly afford lavish parties. But presidents host those all the time on the public dime. Entertaining rather goes with the job description of a head of state. If they deemed this purely a personal event with no public-facing value, perhaps they paid for the refreshments out of pocket. Surely, neither Prince nor Stevie Wonder were charging to perform; even as famous as they are, there’s a certain honor in playing the White House.

Regardless, the White House is public property. Were it for rent for events—and I’m given to understand that it hasn’t been since the Clinton administration—it would be prohibitively pricey. And the vast security and service retinue that attends the president surely weren’t given the night off nor paid for by the Obamas. Nor, I reiterate, should it have been. I’m just befuddled by the pretense.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. The pretense is easy for me to understand. It’s the White House trying to deflect the criticism that they were using taxpayer dollars for entertainment purposes. As you said, it’s really all rather silly but these are the silly things politicians are reduced to.

    Of course, this isn’t really all that new. Even before the Willie Nelson thing, Nixon had Sinatra give an entire concert in the East Room. That one may have been technically “diplomatic” since the Italian Prime Minister (or President, I don’t know) was present, but that’s almost a distinction without a difference.

    And didn’t one of the Ford kids use the East Room for the High School Prom? I was a bit young back then but I seem to remember that.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    When it comes to whining, we’re number one.
    Americans complain about everything.
    It’s almost to the point where I consider it ambient noise.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    What Doug said. They’re avoiding the inevitable drama from Fox News etc… They don’t want to draw focus when Hillary is doing her thing.

  4. Franklin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And didn’t one of the Ford kids use the East Room for the High School Prom? I was a bit young back then but I seem to remember that.

    I *just* read a story about this last week:


  5. Gustopher says:

    How can you not understand? It’s a Democrat in the White House, doing anything at all! Scandalous! Outrageous! Terrifying! Wasteful!

    Why, in Ronald Reagan’s time, Democrats weren’t allowed in the White House at all!

  6. Jeremy R says:


    The odd thing here is the insistence that the Obama’s paid for all of this out of pocket. That’s simply absurd.

    They’ve actually done it with some frequency, throughout this presidency, whether it be for vacations, family travel or parties. They’re perfectly aware that they’re under special scrutiny when it comes to making use of the privileges of the office. Even though they’re obviously not paying for everything (security costs, white house maintenance, etc), by paying for some portion of it (plain tickets, rental properties, entertainment, food expense), they have an easy response to the drumbeat of lazy outrage articles that inevitably are written. It muddies the waters and weakens a stupid, though potentially effective, attack.

  7. Tyrell says:

    This would be the ideal party: Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., and Charlie Daniels.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    The Washing Post regularly has an article that explains who the presidents meals are paid. If the president is meeting with a foreign dignitary, the meal is paid for out of the State Department Budget, If the president is meeting with political types, the president’s party pays for the meal. However, if the president is seating in the family quarters, that is on them.

    I suspect that when President Obama plays golf at Andrews or Fort Belvoir that he actually has to pay the senior officer green fees. However the secret service is providing security out of their budget. It was the same as when President Obama going to Dairy Godmother or Ray;s Hell Burger for food, he pays the tab but the security is funded by the government.

  9. Lenoxus says:

    I’d love to see right-wingers be arbitrarily angry at the Obamas simply for living it up at all, independently of where the money comes from. You know, in the way that depicting a rich person lighting cigars with twenties is considered an attack on that person even though it’s “their” money.

    Bring on the class warfare, conservatives— it’s what Jesus would want! (Source: Like every tenth sentence of the New Testament, just read it.)

  10. al-Ameda says:


    This would be the ideal party: Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., and Charlie Daniels.

    Hank Williams Jr. certainly inherited none of his father’s talent.

  11. Andy says:

    Let’s focus on what’s important – who got their freak on at this party? Please post pictures.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @Tyrell: Ha!! Thank you, Tyrell dear, for giving me the chance to recall this and to post it here:


  13. JohnMcC says:

    @al-Ameda: If you appreciate Hank Sr, let an old Alabama boy (I remember Montgomery was completely tied up in traffic the day of his funeral to my parent’s great annoyance) direct you to a real tribute to that poor soul’s genius that has nothing to do with Hank Jr or Nashville music:


  14. JWH says:

    Considering he’s president, I think the guest list needs to be released to the public.

  15. Guarneri says:

    The libs doth rationalize too much, methinks”

    You know, neurotic preoccupation with Fox News is probably addressable by therapy.

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    I just want it to be clear that the last time I hosted a party with Prince and Stevie Wonder, I also paid for it myself.