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South Korean President Yoon serenades White House with an American rock classic

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

State dinners at the White House often showcase musicians. Well, last night President and First Lady Joe and Jill Biden hosted the president and first lady of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol and Kim Keon-hee. And the festivities included a surprising moment of real joy.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yes, there were moving performances from Broadway stars, but then President Biden took the mic. He turned to President Yoon and began to tell him a story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: When our boys were little, we would drive them to school. They would be - they were 4 or 5 years old. They'd sing "American Pie."

KELLY: "American Pie" - you know, the classic song by Don McLean from the 1970s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN PIE")

DON MCLEAN: (Singing) A long, long time ago, I can still remember...

BLOCK: Biden continued.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: We know this is one of your favorite songs - "American Pie."

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: "American Pie." (Speaking Korean).

BLOCK: Yoon's interpreter jumped in, and then Yoon responded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT YOON SUK-YEOL: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Yes, that's true.

YOON: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Yes. When I was going to school, it was one of my favorite song.

BIDEN: Well, we want to hear you sing it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: A look of surprise flashed across the South Korean leader's face before he said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: It's been a while, but...

KELLY: It's been a while, he said. And then Yoon took the mic.

(APPLAUSE)

BLOCK: A piano joined in. And, looking completely at ease, he went for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOON: (Singing) A long, long time ago...

(APPLAUSE)

YOON: (Singing) ...I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.

(APPLAUSE)

YOON: (Singing) And I knew, if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance. And maybe they'd be happy for a while.

KELLY: From there, Biden gave Yoon a guitar signed by Don McLean, who was on tour in Australia, so sadly could not attend the White House dinner.

BLOCK: But McLean did say he hopes that he and Yoon can sing together sometime soon and that he'll learn to play that guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOON: (Singing) Something touched me deep inside the day the music died.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN PIE")

MCLEAN: (Singing) So bye-bye, miss American pie - drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.