Left to right: Band members Oscar Stagnaro, Alex Brown, Oprah Winfrey, Diego Urcola, Mark Walker.
Left to Right: Band members Oscar Stagnaro, Alex Brown, Mark Walker, Barack Obama, Diego Urcola, Paul Malesi, Charlie Fishman
Band member Charlie Fishman and Oprah Winfrey.
He was hours away from becoming president. She's one of the most influential people in America.
So you can imagine the look on musician and Chicago native Mark Walker's face when he found out he'd be playing an intimate -- and top secret -- dinner Sunday hosted by Barack Obama and attended by Oprah Winfrey at the Blair House .
Walker's band -- The Band of Paquito D'Rivera -- was in town to play a gig at the Kennedy Center when he found out they'd also be playing the party attended by Obama and some of his closest friends.
"[Obama projected] a really, strong, positive vibe and was really relaxed at the same time," Walker said. "We've seen his face everywhere, and we're there hanging with him."
Walker said the 50 or so guests who attended the three-hour party with Obama and Winfrey were screened by Secret Service before they entered the building, but were able to roam without restriction once inside.
"I went to hang up my coat and I see these two little girls come in, smiling and saying, 'hi,' and I realized they were the first daughters. It was kind of surreal. [Obama] seemed very down to earth and friendly," Walker said. "He had that million-dollar smile."
Walker, who currently lives in Boston, grew up in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood before moving in 1995. While in Chicago, he was a full-time musician and began playing the drums for his band in 1989.
Walker said Michelle Obama was already at the party when the band arrived. Winfrey walked in solo, and Barack Obama followed shortly after as the band was playing Miles Davis -- an Obama favorite.
"You know, I'm a big Miles Davis fan," the drummer said Obama told him. "You did your homework."
"[Winfrey] came in, noticed we were playing and gave us a thumbs up," Walker said. Later, the Chicago talk show host posed for a picture with the band.
Walker said guests sat at five round tables and feasted on ribs, sweet potatoes, fried chicken, salmon, macaroni and cheese, pie, ice cream and brownies. They also drank Pinot Nior from California, he said.
Winfrey -- who sat two seats away from Obama and across from his wife, Michelle-- looked great, Walker said.
"They were talking the whole time, having a good time," Walker said. "I had read somewhere that [Winfrey] was down on herself, but I thought she looked great."
The band didn't get paid to play at the dinner, but did it for the experience.
"We did it to meet the new president, and we did. So mission accomplished," Walker said, who ironically voted for Republican John McCain in the general election.
Walker didn't recognize anyone else at the party, other than Obama's chief of staff -- Rahm Emanuel.