Wednesday, January 07, 2009

NOLA: Krewe of Zulu turns 100

Congrats to Zulu.

Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum Jazz Collection
Zulu King Louis Armstrong riding on his float, flanked by his court with coconuts in hand, 1949.

Presbytere exhibit kicks off Krewe of Zulu's 100th year celebration
Posted by mcmontoy January 07, 2009 14:30PM
Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum

Did you know that in 1949 Louis Armstrong reigned as the first celebrity monarch over the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade? Or that the club, now widely popular and a favorite among most Mardi Gras parade-goers, at one time had only 15 members?

Thanks to a partnership between Zulu and the Louisiana State Museum that has produced a 3,000-square-foot exhibit, "From Tramps to Kings: 100 Years of Zulu, " Carnival enthusiasts can learn all they ever wanted to know about Zulu's origins and rich history.

The exhibit opens Friday with a grand patron party and gala celebrating the more than 100 artifacts -- many of which have never been presented to the public -- that piece together the club from its beginnings in 1909.

"When it comes to Zulu, there are many myths and misconceptions that have been passed off as history, " said museum historian Charles Chamberlain, who worked closely with Zulu's historian, Clarence A. Becknell, to create the exhibit.

"One of the things you often hear about Zulu is there was no set parade route, when in fact we have three detailed maps -- from 1927, 1939 and 1949 showing the routes of the club, " Chamberlain said. "Also, it's been said that Zulu was founded to be a parody of Rex, when in fact that's not true; Zulu was created in the mold of countless African-American benevolent associations that provided essential social services to members and the community."

The parade rolls on Mardi Gras, which falls on Feb. 24.

Party-goers who attend Friday night's events will be the first to view artifacts such as Louis Armstrong's scrapbook from his reign and hear audio recorded during his ride. They'll also learn how the organization's seven main characters (the Witch Doctor, Big Shot, Mr. Big Stuff, the Mayor, Ambassador, Governor and Grand Marshall) came to be highlights of the parade.

"The exhibition is divided into two sections -- the history and origin, and the modern development of the organization, " Chamberlain said.

Friday's celebration will happen in the Jackson Square mall in and around the Presbytere. The opening will feature the Zulu king's float and larger-than-life Zulu sculptures from Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. Patron party guests will feast on food from Nola and gala guests will be served offerings from several noted New Orleans restaurants, including K-Paul's, Drago's and Irene's Cuisine, as well as a special curried chicken dish created by Dooky Chase chef Leah Chase. Entertainment will include music by Deacon John and Jean Knight ("Mr. Big Stuff, " "My Toot Toot").

"It's a great way to get in the Carnival spirit while supporting such a fantastic exhibit, " said Susan Maclay, executive director of the Louisiana Museum Foundation, which directly supports all museum endeavors. "What a deal! For $50, all you can drink and eat and fabulous entertainment; really you couldn't spend a night on the town for that kind of money, I promise you."

Folks who can't attend the kick-off party Friday evening are invited to go out Saturday at noon a.m. to see Zulu members parade from Harrah's Casino to The Presbytere. On Saturday at 1:45 p.m. , a ribbon-cutting ceremony will feature Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, Zulu dignitaries and guests.

To celebrate the opening, museum admission will be waived for all visitors on Saturday.

If you can't make it this weekend, take heart: Several events are planned over the course of the year to celebrate the exhibit. Check Lagniappe's weekly special events calendar for upcoming events.


What: The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the Louisiana State Museum have partnered to create a 3,000-square-foot exhibit on Zulu from its beginnings in 1909 to today. The patron party features food from Nola. The gala includes all you can eat and drink with entertainment by Deacon John and Jean Knight.
Chris Granger / The Times-Picayune

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