Marching into Mardi Gras
A parade buff’s 10 favorite bands – and where to see them
St. Augustine Marching 100
CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPH
Ed. Note. No one that we know of pays more attention to Carnival parade bands than Jules Richard. He attends just about every parade, at least in Orleans Parish, and photographs every parade unit, including each band, for his website, MardiGrasParadeSchedule.com. Want to know who marched in any parade over the last few years? Check the website. Because he sees them all, we asked Richard, who also assists in the construction of the sparkly Krewe of Mid-City floats, to tell us his favorites. Here are his comments and his picks:
For the masses, nothing says Mardi Gras more than a parade, complete with royalty, floats, krewe members hurling copious amounts of well sought after throws and, of course, the marching bands. As a photographer for MardiGrasParadeSchedule.com, I’ve been privileged to experience and enjoy almost all the marching bands that Mardi Gras parades have to offer. When asked to provide my point of view on these talented groups, I immediately wondered about the broad range of criteria influencing my perspective. Should I use rivalry between bands, reputation, band size, power, precision, uniforms, showmanship, frequency of performance, etc.? In truth, each band brings a unique experience to each and every person who sees and hears it play.
As a rule, most marching bands will give a full performance at the start and the end of a parade. Occasionally bands will respond to the cheers of the crowd, giving each parade viewer and 100 of his or her “new close friends” a personal performance to be savored. Beyond that, there’s no predicting when a band will play. A band can choose to play every few blocks, in front of Gallier Hall, at a particular intersection such as the corner of St. Charles and Louisiana avenues or simply when there’s a lull in movement of the parade procession.
Of course, there will always be those “must-see” bands. Below is an alphabetical list of these bands and the parades in which each of these bands can generally be seen. Suffice it to say, when anyone hears the beat of the drums and sees these bands emerge from the smoke of the flambeaux’s torch, the cool of the evening or the glare of the midday sun, they know that they’re in for a treat and they’ve arrived at a New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade.
Carnival parades listed in order of appearance
Edna Karr High School
WHERE TO SEE: Hermes, Endymion, Bacchus, Zulu
Though this Carnival will be Chris Herrero’s first as Edna Karr’s band director, the Karr alumnus is looking forward to the crowds’ reaction to his more than 80-member unit’s performances of popular songs to appeal to both fans of traditional marching band music as well as a wide variety of songs currently on the radio. “I’m excited about taking (this band) to the next level,” Herrero says. “I think that the Carnival parade viewers and Karr alumni both will be impressed with the level of our performances.” Also be on the lookout for the color guard’s new uniforms and flags.
McDonogh #35 High School Marching Roneagles
WHERE TO SEE: Carrollton, Hermes, Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus, Zulu
With 80 members, the Marching Roneagles are known for, “their camaraderie, their diligence and most of all their love of music. They bring their best – put their best foot forward – to all that they do,” says McDonogh #35 teacher Romero Stewart. Lead by David D. Jefferson, the Roneagles will be performing a mix of marching, gospel, hip-hop, R&B and a “little old school” during Carnival.
O. Perry Walker High School Charger Band
WHERE TO SEE: Muses, Bacchus, Orpheus, Zulu
This band is lead by the outspoken and fiercely energetic Wilbert Rawlins Jr., who believes that above all, “we must teach our students to reach for the stars and not accept mediocrity.” The close to 200-member unit is known for its vibrant colors, clarity of music and dedication of its students. This year’s Charger Carnival theme is “Beauty and Love;” every song that the unit will perform will be centered around this theme as well as being “tasteful,” Rawlins says, “after all, you’re making an impression on your viewers – especially children – with every performance.”
Roots of Music
WHERE TO SEE: Muses, Bacchus, Orpheus
When several New Orleans middle schools no longer offered marching bands post-Katrina, the Roots of Music formed to fill the void. The program now serves more than 100 students, and the full marching band has paraded at Carnival since 2009.
St. Augustine Marching 100
WHERE TO SEE: Muses, d’Etat, Endymion, Bacchus, Rex
The St. Augustine Marching 100 is a band of many accomplishments: In 1967 it was the first all-black band to play in a white parade (Rex). Throughout the years the Marching 100 have played at such events as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rose Bowl and for such audiences as the Pope and U.S. presidents. Edwin Hampton was St. Aug.’s first-ever band director and still leads the group today.
St. Mary’s Academy
WHERE TO SEE: Pontchartrain, Muses, Morpheus, Carrollton, Hermes, Endymion, Bacchus, Mid-City
The St. Mary’s Academy marching band is a performance of girl power. The 150-person troupe is mostly female, and first-year band director Ray Johnson along with assistant band director Kurt Brunus will lead the band’s performance of such crowd favorites as “YMCA.”
St. Paul’s School Marching Wolves
WHERE TO SEE: Carrollton, Endymion, Bacchus
The Marching Wolves and Golden Blues of St. Paul’s School in Covington, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, will help celebrate Carnival with a lineup of contemporary and classic tunes, from the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” and Black Sabbath to traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras songs. The band will also march at three Northshore parades (Eve, Olympia and Orpheus).
Tulane University Band
WHERE TO SEE: Alla, Hermes, Bacchus and Rex
The Tulane University Marching Band, featuring approximately 60 performers, made its first appearance on the parade route in 2006. The only collegiate band in New Orleans, the Tulanians deviate from Southern traditional style – instead of using a high knee-lift, they march in a contemporary fashion, employing gliding steps. The band has a wide repertoire, performing the school’s fight song, traditional Mardi Gras songs, “When the Saints Go Marching In” and the Ying Yang Twins’ “Halftime (Stand Up & Get Crunk).” Bandleader Barry Spanier says, “We’re regimented, but we have fun. We relate to and interact with the crowd.”
Warren Easton Senior High School
WHERE TO SEE: Pygmalion, Carrollton, Muses, Hermes, Bacchus, Proteus, Rex
Asia Muhaimin, band director of the Warren Easton Charter High School Eagles (and an alumna of the school), says that the band she oversees consists of approximately 70 members who will perform pop tunes along with traditional band marches and tributes to the New Orleans Saints. The school’s unit, which features a color guard, majorettes with batons, drum majors, the band, the Eaglettes dance team, a flag team and cheerleaders, “has lots of Eagle pride,” she says.
Xavier University Preparatory School
WHERE TO SEE: Oshun, Pontchartrain, Muses, Hermes, Endymion, Mid-City
The Mighty Yellowjackets of Xavier University Prepatory School will be adding some new hits and old favorites to keep the crowd entertained along the parade routes this year. Enthusiastic band director Tiffini Reckly says to be on the lookout for some, “high-energy surprises, so step back and watch the show because we can’t be stopped!”