January 11 2012
Another Mardi Gras Moment re-cap as I ready my mind for the good times we'll share at 88Nine's Fat Tuesday Party at Turner on the 21st of February. Part of that is setting the mood, with music of course, and a wee story. Bringing that Nawlins flavour to the North every day along the way.
Today, I spoke a spell on the subject of other krewes, other kings. In the early days of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, one of the first krewes was Zulu. They were an ostentatious bunch famous for their grass skirts and painted coconut throws (called "the Golden Nugget)" and perhaps infamous for their blackface (all the first Zulu were white.) They were also the first to make a float. They also had a king, who like Rex (from the Rex krewe,) made a dramatic entrance into the city by water, to lead a line of marchers. the first Zulu King ruled with a banana stalk scepter and a lard can crown. While Rex entered the city via a Mississippi River steamboat, Zulu used an oyster lugger to plow up the New Basin Canal.
They were also controversial for that same use of blackface. When the 60's came with the Civil rights Movement, blackface was simply no longer funny. The consciousness of the people and their identification with race and rights were changing.Ultimately, the krewe, with support of the Mayor and Chief-of-Police, refused to fall from pressures and continued to parade, but gave up blackfacing, wearing grass skirts, and kept the identity of the king secret. By 1965, and largley due to continued pressures, there were only 15 Zulu members remaining. Ultimately, accepting the local civil rights leaders Ernest J. Wright and Morris F.X. Jeff, Sr. into Zulu, eventually lifted tensions and membership started to increase and the krewe resumed their old traditions including blackface.
By the 70's, the Zulu had started recruiting professionals, educators, and prominent businessmen from all ethnic backgrounds to fill its membership - making Zulu the first parading organization to racially integrate. True story.
On that note, thought "King Of The Zulus" would be perfect for the occasion and who better than "Satchmo" himself. Louis Armstrong's version is the best I think and this one has a great intro...
Louis Armstrong "King Of The Zulus"