Obamas' First State Dinner to Honor India's Prime Minister

Tonight's entertainment also includes elements from India as well as from the United States.

Kurt Elling, an eight-time Grammy nominee and American jazz vocalist and composer, will perform. Chicago-born Jennifer Hudson, winner of the third season of "American Idol" will sing. In addition, the guests will hear from the National Symphony Orchestra, with Marvin Hamlisch as the conductor, and the United States Marine Band.

A.R. Rahman, an Indian composer, musician and singer who wrote the "Slumdog Millionaire" score will also perform. Mrs. Obama began planning this event in early October when it was formally announced by the West Wing. Working closely with her social secretary, Desiree Rogers, the West Wing, the National Security Council and the State Department, she has attended to the many aspects of the event.

"Under the social secretary's eye all of the preparations will come together but ultimately at the end of the day it is the first lady and the president as well that will make the final decisions," Anita McBride, former chief of staff to Laura Bush, says.

The First Honor

The White House says that the formality of the dinner, the size, and the fact that India is the first to be honored with an official state dinner and visit are an indication of the importance placed within the administration on their relationship with the nation. India, with nearly 1.2 billion people, is the second-largest country next to China.

"This is a very important relationship with a very important country that we have in the world," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. "That's why India was chosen to be the first visit. I think that's why the White House wanted to have something as formal as this to discuss throughout this process the issues that we have bilaterally."

The day's events provide plenty of time for the two leaders to discuss their most pressing bilateral concerns – and will serve as a working event as much as it is a ceremonial and celebratory affair. On the docket for today's discussions will be counterterrorism, the economy, energy, and climate change.

The traditional toast exchanged by the two leaders at the dinner will offer "an important platform" for the continuation of a dialogue that the two leaders started earlier in the day, the White House Historical Association says.

As the world's largest democracy, aides say the U.S. relationship with India is "tremendously important going forward," and that played into their decision to host this honor for India first.

Singh is no stranger to the pomp and circumstance of being honored with an official White House state dinner. In 2005 he was so honored by President Bush.

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