In 1998 two fearless New Orleans women set out to protect and preserve one of the city’s most valuable cultures. Mardi Gras Indian Big Queen of the Guardians of the Flame tribe, Cherice Harrison-Nelson and local educator, Dr. Roslyn J. Smith teamed up to create the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame as legacy to Cherice’s father, Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. the year that he passed. Chief of four tribes throughout his life, Donald Harrison Sr. was one of the most influential culture-bearers of New Orleans. Already known as a force in education in the community, the extended Harrison family saw fit to take Mardi Gras Indian history and culture to the next level of institution in honor of Harrison Sr. And so the Hall of Fame was born.
Though the Guardians of the Flame work year-round “to create community among, honor, and educate about the individuals and groups who create and uphold the arts and culture of the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans,” through the organization’s various classes and programs, the annual Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame happens just once a year. During his week-long celebration, the Hall of Fame awards dedicated Mardi Gras Indians for their accomplishments, inducts new clan members and provides an opportunity for those outside the culture to recognize the heritage and work of their fellow New Orleanians. Yes, you are invited to the festivities.
2013 marks the decade and half milestone for the organization, and for its 15th anniversary they are launching a new book series. Beginning this year, the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame will publish an annual yearbook of known members of a specific Mardi Gras Indian position across all known tribes. The series will begin with the first position in traditional masking parade formation, the Spy Boy. Written by local journalists and featuring images by local photographers, the books will provide brief profiles or biographies on as many current Spy Boys as possible.
This year also celebrates the 15th anniversary of the original recording of the Young Guardians of the Flame debut album, New Way Pocky Way, produced by saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. in 1998. The album was in many ways a manifesto, perhaps the last major musical project Big Chief Harrison Sr. provided guidance and influence over. It allowed the introduction of his new generation of Guardians of the Flame on record, and during the recording he appointed his grandson, Brian Nelson as the new clan chief. New Way Pocky Way was re-issued earlier this year on Louisiana Red Hot Records, as a testament to the perpetuation of classic Mardi Gras Indian songs in contemporary culture.
If you have not had the chance to learn about the rooted history and current culture of our Mardi Gras Indian heritage, the Hall of Fame week each August is a fantastic place to start. The Hall’s curator, Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson and the team of organizers will present eight events between August 4 – 11 at six of New Orleans’ cultural centers. The complete schedule of events is below.
15th Annual Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame Awards Week (August 4 – 11, 2013)
- Sunday, August 4: Curator’s Kick-Off at Congo Square, 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.
- Monday, August 5: Blue Linen Monday ft. Year of the Spy Boy Exhibit Opening at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Gallery, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, August 7: Spy Boy Yearbook Release & Book Signing at Community Book Center, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
- Thursday, August 8: 2013 Mardi Gras Indian Honorees City Council Recognition at City Council Chambers, 9 a.m. – 10 a.m.
- Thursday, August 8: Queens Rule! Panel Discussion at Joan Mitchell Center, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, August 10: 2013 Honorees Reception at Basin Street Station, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. ($25)
- Sunday, August 11: 15th Annual Mardi Gras Indian Awards & Induction Ceremony at Ashe Cultural Arts Center, 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
*All events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.
List of 2013 Awards & Inductees, More Info: www.mardigrasindianhalloffame.org