Earl "Spats" Okin gave me permission to publish this August 2006 message to the Duke-LYM discussion list:
I was just going through some papers and came across this one written on by my friend, the late Renee Diamond, who, you will know, was of course, a friend of Duke's for over 40 years.
She and her husband Leslie were invited to be at The White House when President Nixon presented Duke with the 'Presidential Medal of Freedom'.
Of course, we all remember Nixon's finest moment, when he played the piano, but this is what happened AROUND that moment...
This is what she wrote...It's only a trifle, but sort of interesting...
'Cocktail party given for all the guests BEFORE the event at the 'Hotel Hay Adams' (almost opposite The White House). Rooms were FILLED with red roses all for Duke's birthday...MILLIONS of roses!
Cars took Duke and Ruth to The White House first, followed by a huge limousine with Mercer, Evelyn, Edward, Gaye, Stephen...and Renee and Leslie...
BATTERY of cameras took photos of all of us and it was later shown on film.
It would seem that there were only about 80 people for dinner, but all the great musicians came later to gather in the famous white and gold room....known as the East Room.
Between the receiving line, followed by the dinner, we returned to a small room for coffee and liqueurs. THEN (after dinner) on to the East Room.
President and Mrs. Nixon retired after midnight.
Guests departed between 1:30-2:30am."This offers no insight whatsoever into Duke's music, but I thought that some of you might find it interesting, almost to feel that 'you were there'! ;-)
Click here for a photo of Nixon presenting the award to Ellington.