With the U.N. assembly underway in midtown Manhattan, first lady Michelle Obama today retreated to Harlem with 49 wives of visiting heads of state and one official girlfriend, the domestic partner of French president Francois Hollande, for a tour and luncheon at the Studio Museum.
In remarks to the group during the lunch, Obama spoke about the importance of Harlem in U.S. social history, calling it the “cultural heart of the black community in the United States” and a place that has inspired international unity.
“This neighborhood drew some of the greatest African-American artists this country has ever known,” she said. “Painters like Aaron Douglas, writers like Langston Hughes … musicians like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington. Many of these men and women left the South just a couple of generations after the end of slavery and they were desperate to find a place where they could explore their talents and express their ideas freely.
“In a way this neighborhood is a thread that connects us all here today,” Obama said, “no matter where we are from or which language we speak.”
The first lady also promoted efforts to improve the lives of women and girls around the world, telling her guests to “share ideas for how we can all give our children the bright futures they deserve.”
“Don’t be shy, make sure that you talk to the ladies at your table about the great work that you are doing in your countries because you are all doing some wonderfully powerful work,” Obama said. “We all have so much to offer one another, and so much to learn and so much support we can gain from each other.”
The ladies dined on a salad of roasted apples, cornbread croutons, pecans and chanterelle mushroom vinaigrette, followed by shrimp and dirty rice, collard greens and curry leaves with a pumpkin sauce, and a banana pudding parfait with almond cookie and huckleberry sauce, according to the press pool reporter on scene. The meal was prepared by chef Marcus Samuelsson of the famed Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.
Before lunch, the group toured the museum galleries that were founded in 1968 by artists, collectors and curators “anxious” to have a space for African-American and eventually Latino artists to create and show their work.
Among the guests were Begum Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif, wife of the Pakistani prime minister, Princess Charlene Wittstock of Monaco, Valerie Trierweiler, the domestic partner of the president of France, and Teresa Heinz-Kerry, the wife of the U.S. secretary of state.
Everyone received a gift basket from Obama complete with a jar of White House honey butter; lemon verbena grown in the White House herb garden; and a copy of the cookbook “New American Table,” written by Samuelsson.