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John Legend, Mumford & Sons to play state dinner

- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) - There's something special for the Obamas and something special for the Camerons in the entertainment lineup and guest list for Wednesday's state dinner for the British prime minister and his wife.

The Obamas are big admirers of Grammy-winner John Legend, who tweeted that he was psyched to play the White House. And David and Samantha Cameron are huge fans of Mumford & Sons, a British folk rock band also performing.

President Barack Obama is a big fan of "Homeland" actor Damian Lewis, who also snagged an invite to the big dinner. Others who made the guest list: actor George Clooney, billionaire Warren Buffett, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, businessman Richard Branson, fashion's Anna Wintour, Apple's Jony Ive.

The list became public Wednesday evening, but a few excited invitees couldn't wait to share their news.

Hugh Bonneville, the earl of Grantham from "Downtown Abbey" fame, is coming. So is Rory McIlroy, the new world No. 1 golfer. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland tweeted that he's coming, and posted a photo of himself being fitting for his dinner suit.

Wendell Pierce, the New Orleans actor who stars on HBO's "Treme," tweeted that he was angling for more than small talk at the dinner, seeing it as a chance to bring up issues like ongoing problems with defective pumps in his hometown.

One anticipated guest _ at least by the Camerons _ was not on the list, a possible mix-up caused by what George Bernard Shaw called two nations separated by a common language.

David Cameron revealed at a luncheon that his wife was thrilled to learn that her favorite movie star was coming.

"I said, `Is it Ben Kingsley from `Gandhi' or Peter O'Toole from `Lawrence of Arabia?'" Cameron said.

"No, it's Chevy Chase from `Caddyshack,'" Cameron said his wife had told him.

The only Chevy Chase on the invitation list, however, was the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Md., listed as the home address of one invitee.

The dinner _ in a massive white tent on the South lawn _ isn't all about celebrities and sports stars though. Plenty of corporate and policy and public officials are expected.

White House economist Alan Krueger was toting a tux as he headed in to work Wednesday, and said he'd be at the dinner with his wife, Lisa.

Mrs. Obama gave a preview of the dinner during an afternoon meet-up with students from the U.S. and the U.K. in the State Dining Room, complete with an advance tasting of the evening's dessert: steamed lemon pudding, a nod to the traditional English treat.

"Me and grandma and a couple of people, we've tasted the desserts, but you guys will be the first to taste the desserts tonight," she said.

Then the first lady breezed off to check on preparations for the big dinner, saying, "I have to go look at the tent."

And that's no ordinary tent: It features a 150-foot-wide glass wall overlooking the White House grounds.

The entire menu was a U.K.-U.S. blend, featuring bison Wellington, using buffalo tenderloin from North Dakota instead of beef. It also included crisped halibut served on braised baby kale from the White House garden. The salad greens, too, came from the White House backyard.

Mrs. Obama told the schoolgirls that the dinner emerges from a "little-bitty kitchen," but said the chefs would have a little extra elbow room Wednesday with the dinner taking place outside.

One detail that doesn't appear on the extremely detailed menu: the specifics of the "American wine" selections. Without explanation, the White House stopped listing the wines after catching criticism for serving some pricey bottles at earlier state dinners.

Executive chef Cristeta Comerford told the schoolgirls that the garden was a big inspiration for the evening's menu.

"It just came from the backyard, which is kind of cool," she said.

It was one more way to find common ground with the Camerons, who have their own vegetable patch at the official 10 Downing St. residence.

The meal was all about fostering that oft-spoken-of "special relationship" between the U.S. and Britain. And so while the prime minister is not a head of state, making this an "official visit" rather than a "state visit" by the Camerons, the Obamas nonetheless chose to call it a "state dinner," with all of the attendant ceremony and pomp.

Evidence of the effort to bolster the friendship was everywhere, even in the Obamas' and the Camerons' gifts to one another.

The Camerons received a wood and charcoal burning grill engraved with American and British friendship flags, along with his-and-her White House chef jackets embroidered with their names. The gifts were inspired by the Obamas' May 2011 visit to London, when the two couples grilled burgers for American and British members of the military.

The Camerons, in turn, presented the Obamas with a pingpong table, a reminder that the president and prime minister played table tennis with some schoolboys during the Obamas' visit to London. Cameron joked during the luncheon that he and Obama had chosen the wrong gifts for one another, noting that the president is in much better shape.

"I gave him a table tennis table and he gave me a barbecue, but when you see us standing next to each other, it's quite clear that the person who needs the exercise is the British prime minister and the person who needs the barbecue is the president," Cameron said.

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