From Las Vegas to the White House
Entertainer Wayne Newton sang his hits for the guests following the state dinner for the President of Liberia. In his White House debut he showcased his multi-instrumental talent, playing the guitar, violin, and banjo.
Newton began performing at an early age, gaining national exposure in the 1960s through appearances on Jackie Gleason’s television show and by touring with Jack Benny. He began a long-term engagement at the Fremont Hotel in Las Vegas in 1970 that helped establish his ties to that city. His repertoire included a mixture of pop. rhythm and blues, ballads, country, and rock music.
A Common Vision of Liberty
President Ford delivered a toast to President William Tolbert of Liberia at dinner, observing the shared values between North America and Africa’s oldest existing republics. “Mr. President, I know that you agree with me that freedom is too precious a gift for our nations to reserve only for ourselves,” he said. “We must stand ready to encourage others, all those who strive for freedom, reconciliation and the rights of all men, whether they are on the African continent or otherwise.”
In his responding toast President Tolbert referenced the continuing oppression and violence occurring in several nations in southern Africa. He also reflected on what he believed America’s role should be as it began its third century:
Liberians are actively aware that the spirit of America has a uniquely infectious quality. Thus, to an aspiring and emerging world, it is my conviction that this land and people must remain a towering pillar of strength, courage, enterprise and challenge, inspiring all nations.
To peoples struggling still under the yoke of violent oppression, America must continue to tend and fend and fan the flame of freedom, justice and human dignity. To nations entangled in the intricacies of economic exploitation. American ingenuity must set the pace in resolving the issues of global restructure and reform – an excellent nation in command.
On the Guest List
As usual, the guest list for this dinner included individuals from a wide variety of fields. President Ford and President William Tolbert of Liberia greeted athlete Bruce Jenner, who had won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics, in the receiving line.
Other invitees included comedian Marty Allen, actor Ernest Borgnine, author Alex P. Haley, New York Times associate editor Charlotte Curtis, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, and Tuskegee Institute President Luther H. Foster. Mayor James McGee of Dayton, Ohio, which was a sister city to the Liberian capital Monrovia, also attended.
Pieces of Silver
Betty Ford reviewed the table settings in the State Dining Room as preparations for the state dinner honoring the President of Liberia were underway.
For the centerpieces the White House borrowed 19th century silver presentation pieces from the Museum of the City of New York. These pieces, which had been given to individuals in recognition of service or accomplishment, had all be manufactured in America.
The decorations also featured arrangements of flowers and greenery that included Boston ivy, pink cabbage roses, eucalyptus, Gerber daisies, and mums. A pink lily was tucked in each napkin, which rested on the wildflower-patterned Johnson china.
Following the arrival ceremony President Ford and President William Tolbert sat down for a hour-long talk in the Oval Office. They began their meeting with the topic of American-Liberian relations, particularly aid and Peace Corps projects.
President Ford provided an overview of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s negotiation efforts in southern Africa, and the discussion shifted towards international affairs on that continent. “To speak frankly, America’s presence should never be absent in Africa,” President Tolbert told him. “Others are pressing to emphasize their presence and to minimize the U.S. role,” Tolbert cautioned, noting that when Guinea gained independence it turned to Communists for help when America was slow to react.
A Unique and Special Friendship
President William Tolbert of Liberia and Mrs. Tolbert arrived at the White House on September 21, 1976. He was the first African leader to make a state visit during America’s Bicentennial year.
In his welcoming remarks, President Ford noted the challenges facing nations in southern Africa and America’s offers of assistance. “We greatly appreciate and value your wise counsel, your moderation and your support,” he told President Tolbert.
In his response President Tolbert discussed the impact of his country’s “unique and special friendship” with the United States during Liberia’s 130 years of independence. “We have drawn exceptional inspiration from your unrelenting and outstanding leadership in the world for genuine understanding and productive cooperation and we embrace the fervent hope that America’s innovative initiatives will be clearly evident in man’s continuing search for peace and in the struggle against poverty, exploitation, suppression, oppression, injustice and human indignity,” he said.
Tony Orlando and the Fords
The evening ended with dancing in the State Dining Room. President Kekkonen departed around 12:15 a.m. and afterward, as at several previous state dinners, an impromptu jam session began.
Mrs. Ford hit the dance floor with President Ford as well as singer Tony Orlando. After doing the bump she and Orlando sang a duet of “Lazy River.” Gradually all of the Fords present got in on the act. President Ford joined in for “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” and then Jack and Susan added their voices to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and Tony Orlando’s hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.”
The Shearing Sound
Making his White House debut, jazz pianist George Shearing provided the entertainment at this dinner for President Kekkonen of Finland. His program included variations on several popular melodies.
Shearing, who had been born blind, studied music at a school for the blind in his native England and began performing in London pubs. He moved to the United States in 1947. Shortly afterward he established the George Shearing Quintet, which toured in Europe, Japan, Australia, and South America.
Although primarily known for his jazz playing, Shearing performed classical music as a soloist with many symphony orchestras across the country. He recorded numerous albums throughout the years, not only with his own ensembles but also with singers such as Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee.
State Dinner Styling
Betty Ford wore this chiffon gown at the state dinner honoring President Kekkonen of Finland. Designed by Albert Capraro, the floor-length dress features a two layered sandstone-stripe design.
Mrs. Ford paired the gown with the “Collar of St. Arsene,” which First Lady Jehan Sadat of Egypt had given to her as a state gift on October 27, 1975. The necklace, made of gold-plated silver and cut glass, dates to the pre-Arabic Roman period.