WASHINGTON — From Hawaii high school buddies, to old friends from Chicago, to former Cabinet members, to Beyonce and Jay Z, former President Barack Obama threw himself a 60th birthday bash Saturday, with about 200 people attending the event that was scaled down over concerns about the spreading COVID Delta variant.
Obama turned 60 on Aug. 4 and spent last week celebrating in the run-up to the Saturday night outdoor party at his oceanside mansion on Martha’s Vineyard with spectacular views. Obama golfed and bowled with pals Wednesday and Thursday and then did a pre-party reception Friday night.
I’ve put together this report from sources with details about the party and were there.
Last week, Obama announced that party would be “significantly” scaled back after the Biden White House was put on the defensive over Obama hosting “hundreds” at his birthday party. The Obama team decided to reduce the size of the party in order to avoid it becoming a distraction from the larger message that everyone should get vaccinated and other COVID prevention work being done by the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control.
Still, this scaled back party had about 200 guests, an eyewitness told me.
Obama erected a giant tent — open on all sides — on his grounds and had a COVID compliance officer on duty at the party to monitor the situation and health safety. Guests were asked to take COVID tests before the party. There were lots of masks available — some with a party logo — if someone wanted one.
Here’s what I learned:
. President Joe Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, did not attend but sent a video tribute, talking about their accomplishments and the closeness of their families.
. Chicagoan Marty Nesbitt, who is one of Obama’s best friends — he chairs the Obama Presidential Foundation Board — gave an emotional toast. Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha also spoke. So did Obama’s Hawaii high school buddies, who he remains close to. I’m told they were hilarious.
. John Legend sang “Happy Birthday” to Obama. Other performers included Common and The Roots.
. Former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, whose fundraising was crucial to Obama becoming a viable presidential candidate, was there with her husband, Bryan Traubert. She is also on the Obama Foundation board.
. Valerie Jarrett, close friend and confidant to Obama and former first lady Michelle — who introduced them to Martha’s Vineyard years ago — was there. After serving as a senior Obama White House official, she is now the Obama Foundation president.
. Chicago lawyer Tina Tchen, who was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff was also at the party.
. Others from Chicago include former Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan; friend and early supporter John Rogers; Jim and Paula Crown, who were also in on the ground floor when Obama was starting his political climb.
. Once the guest list had to shrink last week, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who was Obama’s first chief of staff — was like others, including David Axelrod, Obama’s strategist, asked not to come. Making the cut and attending: former Obama White House photographer Pete Souza and Reggie Love, who at one-time was Obama’s “bodyman” and basketball playing buddy.
. Others at the party from the Obama Cabinet include his first Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
. Actor Tom Hanks, a long-time figure in the Obama orbit — was also there as was former NBA great Dwyane Wade, who was born in Chicago and raised in the southern suburbs.
. This was a sit-down dinner. Obama danced a lot. The party was still going on at 1 a.m.