South Korean President Sings “American Pie” at the White House State Dinner

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By Ryan Ryu ’25

President Yoon Suk Yeol stole the show at Wednesday’s White House state dinner with a rendition of his favorite song, “American Pie.” President Joe Biden led the acclaim for his counterpart’s musical abilities, telling Yoon he had “no damn idea” he could sing. The performance came hours after the pair announced an agreement to counter Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threats following post-dinner entertainment. Yoon, a former prosecutor who was elected South Korea’s leader last year, arrived Monday, April 24, in Washington for a six-day state visit as the U.S. and South Korea mark the 70th anniversary of their alliance, which dates to the end of the Korean War. He will address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday. Guests in the State Dining Room were treated to a musical medley by three Broadway stars: Lea Salonga, Norm Lewis, and Jessica Vosk. The performance featured five classic Broadway hits: “This Is the Moment,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” “On My Own,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and “Somewhere.” After the Broadway trio finished their last song, first lady Jill Biden asked the trio to sing one more — a favorite song of Yoon’s. The performers obliged with a rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” which topped the Billboard chart 51 years ago and has been belted at venues and karaoke bars worldwide since. Wednesday’s audience was no exception.

The two presidents then stood together onstage in conversation, with an interpreter revealing the chart-topping American classic was Yoon’s favorite song in school. “Well we want to hear you sing it,” Biden said to Yoon, to which the South Korean leader responded by taking the microphone and giving a brief rendition. Wearing a black bow tie and tuxedo jacket with a South Korean flag pinned to his lapel, Yoon delivered the first few lines a cappella and continued crooning to huge cheers and a standing ovation from guests, including Angelina Jolie. “I understand that you like the guitar as well,” Biden said, handing a beaming Yoon an autographed guitar from Don McLean himself. “The next state dinner we’re going to have,” Biden said, putting his arm around Yoon, “you’re looking at the entertainment.” The hit song written by McLean was partly biographical. The song “presents an abstract story of McLean’s life from the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s, and at the same time it represents the evolution of popular music and politics over these years, from the lightness of the 1950s to the darkness of the late 1960s,” an analysis of the song on McLean’s website said. It has since become a symbol of American popular culture and soft power, transporting its touchstone cultural references to karaoke bars and venues around the world.

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