Kristen Dubenion-Smith ’02 performs at wedding of U.S. President Joe Biden’s granddaughter.
Kristen Dubenion-Smith has had the honor of singing at some very high-profile events and nationally known venues, but never anything quite like what she did on Nov. 19, 2022.
Dubenion-Smith, a member of the Class of 2002 who works as a concert soloist and choral singer, performed with a group of seven other singers at the White House wedding of Peter Neal and Naomi Biden, the granddaughter of U.S. President Joe Biden.
Originally from Okemos, Mich., Dubenion-Smith graduated from Alma College with a Bachelor of Music degree and moved on to Baltimore, completing her graduate studies at the Peabody Institute. She has since found a home in Maryland, where she lives with her husband and two children.
Since 2016, Dubenion-Smith has performed with the Choir of Men and Boys/Girls at the Washington National Cathedral — in fact, she’s the first woman to be offered a position in the choir. She has performed at the state funerals of President George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, and at Biden’s Presidential Inauguration Ceremony and Prayer Service.
But Dubenion-Smith had never set foot inside the White House until she was called to perform there. One of the most memorable aspects of the wedding, she said, was the security of it. For example, she was not allowed to tell people she knew about her performance until it was over.
“In total, I would say that my time in the White House was shorter than the amount of time it took to get inside the White House,” Dubenion-Smith said. “They make you jump through all kinds of hoops and even confiscate your phone. It’s easy to understand why they do it, but it’s still interesting to experience.”
She will also long remember meeting Biden and appreciating his keen ear for her Michigan accent.
“I only spoke to the President briefly. I had remarked in passing that I didn’t have a black folder, which is what singers carry their music in while they perform. He heard me, stopped and asked, ‘Are you from Michigan?’ I guess my accent really comes out when I say certain words.”
Of course, Dubenion-Smith said she will also remember the ceremony on the White House’s South Lawn, and Naomi Biden coming down the aisle to a string quartet rendition of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”
“It was a cool honor to perform at the White House, and overall just a very interesting, utterly unique experience,” Dubenion-Smith said. “The ceremony was beautiful and the venue was obviously incredible.”
Dubenion-Smith is looking forward to coming back to Alma College this fall and is tentatively planning on performing Handel’s “Messiah.” Alma, she said, prepared her to interact with people from all walks of life, which has paid off in spades since moving to such a diverse area as Washington, D.C.
“If I had, for example, gone somewhere with a performing arts focus, I think I would be at a disadvantage in this world. I was forced out of my comfort zone at Alma, and I think that’s a really good thing for young people to experience.”