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First Lady Michelle Obama turns 50 and fabulous with star-studded dance party

The invitation to First Lady Michelle Obama's star-filled 50th birthday dance party at the White House, Jan. 18, 2014; Michelle spent a busy week as she turned "50 and fabulous" on Friday, Jan. 17
The invitation to First Lady Michelle Obama's star-filled 50th birthday dance party at the White House, Jan. 18, 2014; Michelle spent a busy week as she turned "50 and fabulous" on Friday, Jan. 17
Christopher Peregrin on Instagram / Washington Post

First Lady Michelle Obama has had a busy birthday week leading up to turning "50 and fabulous" on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014 and capping it all off with a star-studded dance party called "Snacks & Sips & Dancing & Dessert" at the White House on Saturday evening, Jan. 18 where the First Lady, President Barack Obama and guests danced until nearly 3 a.m. in the morning Sunday, Jan. 19. Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, Jan. 15 Mrs. Obama announced in a White House event that she will focus her remaining three years on education. On her birthday on Friday, Jan. 17 the First Lady took the milestone birthday in stride, taking a photo with her AARP card and posting it proudly on Twitter. Maybe the First Lady is not all the concerned about her age, because as she mentioned in a recent birthday interview with People magazine, she was open to botox or plastic surgery to stay young.

The high point of the week was the First Lady's White House birthday and then party on Saturday, evening Jan. 18, which Michelle first revealed was in the planning stages in December while visiting a children's hospital before Christmas, saying her birthday "might involve some dancing. A little Dougie." Invited guests were told to save the date, eat before, and wear comfortable shoes to dance.

Most of the women brought flat shoes with them to change and dance in. The First Lady also apparently looked youthful in a red jumpsuit, known for her trend setting style it was no surprise. A guest told People magazine that Michelle "was enthralled. You could tell she had a lot of fun," and a source told the Chicago Tribune that she "seemed very comfortable and happy. Very celebratory."

As for the menu; it included a variety of finger food, deserts and different drinks to please the guests and champagne to toast the birthday girl. Among the finger food according to People were "mini crab cakes, fried oysters on toast rounds, roast beef sliders." While the Chicago Tribune said the drinks' menu was far ranging and included; "hard liquor, champagne, beer and wine."

Around 500 were in attendance in the White House's East Room and most the state floor rooms to dance and fete the First Lady. The guest list that was never made public was only scrapped together by guests in attendance, most of who spoke anonymously to the media.

The Chicago Tribune posted the most complete put together list of attendees. Among the major political players included; "Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, national security adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Democratic National Committee official Donna Brazile." In addition other members of the administration were at the party.

Among the family and close friends including the Obamas' two daughters, Malia, 15 and Sasha, 12 and the First Lady's Mother, Marian Robinson. The Chicago Tribune reported a number of family friends from Chicago were there, including; "Kaye and Wellington Wilson, Marty Nesbitt, Eric Whitaker, Laura Ricketts and Paula and Jim Crown."

According to Chicago Tribune among the singers, actors, and TV personalities and sports greats at the party were; "Sir Paul McCartney, Magic Johnson, actress/singer Jennifer Hudson, singer Janelle Monae, actor Kal Penn, TV personality Al Roker, actress Ashley Judd, tennis great Billie Jean King, retired Olympic figure-skater Michelle Kwan and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg." CNN reported "Washington chef Jose Andres" and "fashion designer Michael Kors" were also at the party.

However, it was People magazine that most completely covered showbiz's big names in attendance, listing; "Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Janelle Monae, Mary J. Blige, Angela Bassett, Courtney Vance, Herbie Hancock, Samuel L. Jackson, Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning, Ledisi, Emmett Smith, Star Jones, Al Roker, Steve Harvey, Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King and Michael Jordan," Singer James Taylor was also among the guests.

It was truly a who's who of the entertainment industry, while the actors were at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, the singers where at the White House. The SAG Awards was the reason Oprah Winfrey did not attend the party, though she celebrated Michelle's birthday earlier in the month when the First Lady remained an extra week at Winfrey's Hawaii home after the President and their daughters returned to Washington after their holiday vacation.

Most of the news about the hush, hush party comes from the guest themselves since no cameras or press was allowed to be present, all guests had to check-in their cellphones at the door. It was one event where there was no minute by minute Facebook posts or tweets unprecedented in the age of social media.

CNN political contributor Donna Brazile leaked a number of details on Sunday morning, Jan. 19 to CNN; "Childhood friends there. People from the administration… The most important thing is, Beyonce performed, and I have to tell you, John Legend sang 'Happy Birthday.'… The most moving tribute came (from) (President) Barack Obama, who talked about the woman he met and fell in love with."

Despite the number of singers and musicians at the party, only three performed including as widely speculated Beyoncé, who started the party by performing a medley of her major hits and around midnight Stevie Wonder who gave an impromptu performance, while singer John Legend serenaded the First Lady when her birthday cake was brought out, according to guests he sang "Happy Birthday" traditionally and a second time "jazzier."

Most were there to dance and dance night away they did. There were exceptions, Bill and Hillary Clinton did everything but dance, spending most of the night chatting and "working the room," with Vice President Biden doing the same. A source told the Chicago Tribune that the music was "rhythm and blues and contemporary club music" spun by DJ Cassidy.

It was the First Lady and President that were really the dancing queen and king of the party, and the dancing only begun after midnight after the First Lady took a brief break before returning to the again to party after kicking off her heels ready to dance, dance, dance. One guest recounted to People; "At 2 a.m., there were the President and First Lady on the dance floor with a circle around them. It was Beyoncé and some of her dancers and the Obamas were more than keeping up. It looked like they got briefed on all the new moves. The First Lady danced like she was one of her daughters' generation."

According to those present the entertainment, amazing musical performances, could not stand up to President Barack Obama's "emotional" and tearful tribute speech to his wife. An unnamed guest told People; "Everyone got teary when Barack spoke." It was "moving tribute to his wife, recounting the first time he laid eyes on her, how he was soaking wet and had on bad shoes but she didn't hold it against him. He thanked her for being patient with him. You could tell he had married his best friend." While recent Kennedy Center honoree Herbie Hancock described Obama's tribute as "really beautiful and really touching. He said something - his voice almost cracked like he was crying. It was just beautiful, a husband speaking about his wife."

Taking turning fifty in stride, Michelle did not have any public events on her birthday on Friday, enjoying a quiet day preparing for her big party and privately celebrating, but she did one public share. She posted on Twitter a photo of herself holding her new free American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) membership card, where she tweeted; "Excited to join Barack in the 50+ club today ... check out my @AARP card!"

At a higher education summit on Thursday, Jan. 16 Michelle's birthday's was not far from the President's thoughts when he told the 100 university presidents in attendance; "It's her birthday tomorrow so I want everybody to just keep that in mind." The President and First Lady co-hosted the event to promote access to higher education especially among low income students giving them a chance to go to and graduate college. The President explained the point of summit; "We've got philanthropists and business leaders here; we've got leaders of innovative non-for-profits; we've got college presidents -- from state universities and historically black colleges to Ivy League universities and community colleges. More than 100 colleges and 40 organizations are announcing new commitments to help more young people not only go to, but graduate from college."

Both the President and First Lady are committed to ensuring everyone, rich or poor has the opportunity to better their lives and graduate from college; it is part of the President fight against economic inequality and the First Lady's focus on education. President Obama expressed; "We want to make sure more young people have the chance to earn a higher education…. More than ever, a college degree is the surest path to a stable middle-class life. We all have a stake in restoring that fundamental American idea that says it doesn't matter where you start; what matters is where you end up." While Mrs. Obama stated; "My goal specifically is to reach out directly to young people and encourage them to take charge of their futures and complete an education beyond high school."

First Lady Michelle Obama held her own White House event on education on Wednesday, Jan. 15, that consisted of an audience of high school educators, where she announced that she plans to make education the main focus of her remaining three years as First Lady. At the event Michelle and invited guest "singer-songwriter" Alicia Keys presented a film produced by Keys "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete." The First Lady also recounted her own struggle to rise above and get an education, and that all children should have that opportunity.

First Lady Michelle explained; "I want these young people to understand that their struggles can actually be a source of strength. But it is our responsibility to make sure that they have those caring adults in their lives. It's our responsibility to make sure that they have schools that will teach them." She also stated she is going to focus on education, announcing; "For the rest of my time as first lady... I'm going to be doing my very best to promote these efforts. Three words you are going to hear me say a lot over the next three years: grit, resilience, courage. We have to keep fighting because these kids are worth it. "

Leading up to her birthday the First Lady sat down with a number of entertainment, lifestyles and women's magazine's about the milestone birthday that makes most women cringe. The interview that has cause the most attention is the one Michelle did with People magazine, because she revealed her openness to plastic surgery and botox, explaining; "Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves. Right now, I don't imagine that I would go that route, but I've also learned to never say never." The First Lady did admit "I don't feel that much differently than I did when I was younger. What I hear is that age is a number, it's a state of mind."


Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.

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