For Jon Batiste, the White House State Dinner Was a Family Affair

Jon Batiste is not afraid of a jazzy suit. The Juilliard-trained musician has made a name for himself through performing around the world and nabbing an Oscar and Golden Globe for scoring Pixar’s jazz-centric animation Soul. And while scoring these accomplishments Batiste has worn an enviable array of kaleidoscopic and patterned suits. When Batiste was personally asked by Dr. Jill Biden to perform at the White House State Dinner a few weeks ago, he knew the perfect brand to adapt his distinctive flair to black-tie dressing: Bode. 

Batiste wore a sleek suit and flat ribbon bow tie by the CFDA-winning brand for his first performance at the White House. “The late Stanley Cowell said, ‘Discover your musical personality. Play from your heart and soul,’ ” Batiste shares with Vogue not too long after the event. “To me, it’s the same approach to the suit tradition. It’s all about the character you want to inhabit on any given night.” 

The night was certainly one to remember. President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron and first lady Brigitte Macron for the White House’s first State Dinner since the start of the COVID pandemic. During the starry night, Batiste delivered a rousing performance that poetically weaved in and out of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (often referred to as the “Black national anthem”), and France’s national anthem “La Marseillaise.” The “symbolic musical conception,” as Batiste calls it, appeared to highlight cross-cultural exchanges and, also, multicultural identities. Batiste grew up in Louisiana and has Creole ancestry. Like the melodies he played last night, American, Black, and French identities are inextricably interwoven for many. “I think our power lies not in assimilation but in celebrating the beautiful fusion of different cultures, customs, languages, traditions, legacies from which we all come from,” Batiste says. 

When Batiste was asked to perform, he wanted to make sure his family and loved ones—especially his wife, writer Suleika Jaouad—could be in attendance. “In the last two years I’ve experienced epic highs and lows, all of which has really put into greater perspective the importance of family,” Batiste explains of the request. Jaouad released a memoir last year that recounted being diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in 2010 and her years-long, up-down battle with the disease; She relapsed last year. Dr. Biden granted Batiste’s request for a plus eleven, which included Batiste’s mother and his 89-year-old activist grandfather.

Batiste arrived with his beaming family in tow. He held hands with his wife, who was dressed in an eye-catching yellow gown. “She was slaying in Oscar de la Renta,” Batiste says. “Seeing Suleika step out for her first public outing in a year after her cancer treatment meant a lot.” During the night, Batiste and his grandfather remarked on the symbolic significance of their presence. “Discussing with [him] how the original builders of the White House were enslaved Americans whilst walking into the State Dinner as honored guests was quite a moment.” Shortly after Batiste’s rousing performance, President Biden told the musician, “Thank you very much for allowing us to continue to dream.” 

As Batiste puts it, “A lot of healing was going on in the place.”