Today's Daily Flotus quiz question (this is the first of what may be an occasional feature) is: Which artist sat next to First Lady Michelle Obama at the 32nd
Annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony on Sunday night? Your choices are limited to the honorees at the splashy star-studded show, a major yearly intersection of Hollywood, Broadway, all forms of music and Washington.
- Mel Brooks; actor, director and producer
- Dave Brubeck; pianist and composer
- Grace Bumbry; opera singer
- Robert De Niro; actor, director and producer
- Bruce Springsteen, rocker and songwriter.
The answer in a few paragraphs. But first, what to wear for the major salute to the arts? Sitting in the Kennedy Center Opera House presidential box, Mrs. Obama was in a strapless purple gown (Time Magazine said it was by Peter Soronen), with jewelry around her neck. President Obama wore a tuxedo.
(Quick aside on Mrs. Obama's fashion influence: J.Crew Group Inc., the clothing company receiving priceless free publicity because Mrs. Obama and her daughters have been seen wearing its outfits, saw third-quarter profits rise 7.7 percent; the shares have more than tripled this year.)
Back to the show, which was a homecoming of sorts for Obama supporters. The longtime producer of the event was early backer George Stevens Jr., whom Obama nominated in September to be co-chairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Caroline Kennedy, who endorsed Obama during the crucial primary season in 2008, was the host. And on Dec. 4, Obama tapped Victoria Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), for a seat on the Kennedy Center board.
But stars always come out to the gala no matter who is the president. And in keeping with tradition, there was a dinner at the State Department the night before the bash. This year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady, hosted the gang, coming right from her trip to Belgium to pitch Obama's Afghanistan troop-expansion plan to NATO.
The answer to the quiz: It's Springsteen. Mrs. Obama was flanked by the president on one side and the Boss on the other. The first lady, according to the pool report, seemed "engaged in huddled chit chat before the show began" with Springsteen. Mel Brooks, sitting next to Springsteen, "appeared to be piping in for comic relief."
Also in the Obama box with the honorees: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and daughter Ashley; senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; and CBS President Les Moonves. (CBS will broadcast the event on Dec. 29.)
Springsteen is no stranger to the Obamas. He and Billy Joel gave a New York concert in October 2008 to raise funds for the campaign. And one of the coolest moments during the campaign came two weeks later, on Nov. 2, a marathon day of stumping in the pivotal state of Ohio just before the election. At nightfall, there was a giant rally in Cleveland. Springsteen performed and the Obama family hit the stage. Then-Sen. Obama took youngest daughter Sasha in hand to introduce her to the Boss as Mrs. Obama, her arm around Malia's shoulder, watched. Springsteen sang, "Sen. Obama, help us rebuild our house."
During the inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, Springsteen was one of the performers in the "We Are One" concert.
Fast-forward to the reception in the East Room of the White House, before the Kennedy Center Honors show. Said the president: "Bruce was a great fan -- a great friend over the last year, and when I watched him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he rocked the National Mall before my inauguration, I thought it captured as well as anything the spirit of what America should be about. On a day like that, and today, I remember: I'm the president, but he's The Boss."