The event capped a momentous year for Batiste, which also saw him take home a five-year-old Grammys, including Album of the Year, in April. On Thursday in the White House, the French President Emmanuel Macron broke into a big smile When Batiste incorporated the French national anthem into his jazz piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. And long after the C-SPAN cameras were removed, Batiste led the world leaders in a second row, or New Orleans-style street party, through the glass pavilion on the South Lawn. Over the weekend, he spoke with The Post about his set list and what it means to perform at the White House.
So, tell me how this got started. What was your reaction when you got the call to perform at the State Dinner?
Oh, and I was so excited because I have so many connections with public service in my family. Mom [Katherine Batiste] She has worked for the United States government as an environmental advocate for nearly four decades. And serious [David Gautier] He was an incredible activist. He led the Louisiana Postal Workers Union and was the first wave to integrate the Navy during the Korean War during the Truman era. So I called them right away.
My wife was with me in the living room when Biden called me. She was getting on a plane and was so excited that she wanted to call me herself. I was like, “Oh, wow, Dr. Biden, my first lady.” I said on that first call that I wanted to bring all of my family and I had to call my mom to see if she could wrangle the crew, because we were 10 of them. Then I called Dr. Biden. And I said, “You know what? We can all make it. Can you have us all at dinner?”
Did the first lady say why they chose you? I can see the French-American nature of New Orleans, and you’re from jazz, an American art form.
Well, she mentioned that she was a fan first and that was nice. She would say that, “I am a huge fan of your music. I love what you stand for other than your music. And I think you represent the country well.” That was special to hear.
How did you decide what to play? The White House only allowed the press to linger for the first song and a half.
Hey man! Well, all of these connections have thought of coming out group list Then I talked to my grandfather about who built the White House.
Who built it, you mean enslaved Americans?
Yes, we talked about his history of being a proud American and being someone who believes in the freedoms that democracy provides. It was all great, and very clearly put into context when we were standing in the White House talking about it.
I thought it would be cool to start with an impressionistic piano version “Lift up every voice and sing” “Star Spangled Banner” and the French national anthem, all reimagined in contrast to one another. I thought that would set the tone for this amazing prospect, but I’m also talking about the history of America and the contract we represent at our highest level.
We did “Sunny Side of the Street,” Which is something Louis Armstrong sang. It’s from the Great American Songbook and it’s also something that’s played a lot in New Orleans and this Pops [Jon’s father, Michael Batiste] will play.
and we did, “crying,” Which is something I composed and it was in “we”. It’s blues and it has that kind of heaviness of the times and the feeling of heaviness that we had at that time. You know, screaming in the blues tradition is a form of catharsis that I think is important for us. I’ve arranged the “president’s” Marine Corps. They had that orchestra on stage playing all night, and they were fighting, man.
Then from there we went to finish off the set “freedom.” Here’s another song for me. I said to the audience, “We sure can’t stay seated for the rest of this performance.”
I jumped into the crowd. And I went to Stephen [Colbert], Stephen and I, we did our job. Then Julia Louis-Dreyfus was there and she was really dancing. Then that turned into a dance party.
Then I crept into another one. I was looking at President Joe Biden. I was like, “Sorry, Mr. President, I have to play Saints Go Marching In.” “Because we have a lot of people from Louisiana in the house. And they broke napkins and the second line.”
The Saints were kind of audible. My father sang with us. I did it with the “President’s” Marine Corps. They had the arrangement but I didn’t know if I would be able to get it there.
Did you give President Biden a look to get the green light for a second line?
When we finished “Freedom,” I looked at him and shrugged, because he was about to wrap up and wrap up the evening. People had already whipped up the handkerchief, which is traditional for New Orleans second liners to put your handkerchief in the air. And he saw it on his table and said, “Okay, go ahead.” excellent.
Did he join the second line?
yes! I jumped into the crowd again. I went in there and gave him a high five and he would do whatever he wanted. He didn’t have a bandanna, but he was definitely part of the second line.
And what about Emmanuel Macron, Dr. Biden, and Brigitte Macron?
Oh yes. Emmanuel Macron is very cool. I grabbed my 7-year-old nephew, Brennan, and held him during second grade. Then after the second line was over, he put it on stage, because he’s 7 so he can’t see everyone. That was a great moment.
Sulaika said this was her first public outing in a year, since her bone marrow transplant. Is she still undergoing chemotherapy?
Yes, you are still going through chemo. I mean, if you’d seen where we were in February, and seen her in this dress. … It was amazing for me to witness. I learn a lot from her – she is such a superhero.
mentioned [to Dr. Biden] That we had to get Christine, Nurse Solica, and Julian from my team over there. They were making sure that every step of the way – in the car, I tested drivers and wore the mask. And we wear masks everywhere except when we’re at dinner and at the hotel. Even the folks at the Four Seasons were so accommodating to what we needed in terms of room service and precautions there.
What was going through your head when you left the White House?
I was so excited about what we accomplished. Musically, I feel we’ve given American musical culture a great deal of respect and appreciation for the French influence and New Orleans culture, which is an integral part of everything I do. Then just from the perspective of our country, and what it means to be an artist and to be someone who represents culture and what we mean when we say ‘culture’ and how we continually improve on the things that our ancestors left us – that was also heavy on me.
And I also felt that it was a huge accomplishment for our family on a number of levels. You know, my grandfather and my mother, and even seeing my nephews Brayden and Brennan, and just think about what this moment will mean to them 10 or 20 years down the road.
That was too much. I’m so exhausted.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
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