New Orleans Magazine’s People to Watch tradition has been going strong for more than 40 years. Throughout that time, we have celebrated musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, movers and shakers from across the city. We define a Person to Watch as someone doing something new and interesting; in some cases, it may be someone who has already been watchable but that is moving in a new direction. The main problem for New Orleans Magazine has always been picking the best of the best from a long list of contenders. We conceded there are always many other watch-worthy people out there, and we will keep our eyes open. Most of our selections achieve the greatness that we had anticipated, or greater. We’ve seen reporters go on to land on the Today show, musicians debut nationally on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series and the Tonight Show, and TV stars become national talk show icons. How will this class do? We’ll be watching.
Songwriter & Performer
Songwriter, producer and performer Boyfriend infuses her rap repertoire with feminist sentiments and sass, often sporting lingerie and curlers in her hair. She’s released several singles over the past few years, is currently working on a debut album, and has collaborated with popular local artists including Big Freedia and Galactic.
Creating live shows is her passion. “I was raised on musicals, so coming up with costumes, props and choreography for my songs is the most fun for my inner child,” she said.
An independent artist, she admits there are emotional pitfalls. “It’s easy to be beguiled by the concept of scarcity, especially as a woman – the idea that there’s a finite amount of success out there to be snagged.”
Ultimately, her goal is “to feel confident that I do solid, effective work [and] to look back and forward with satisfaction, rather than frenzy.”
Poof Cotton Candy
This year’s JEDCO Challenge Winner, Poof is a cotton candy company founded by former bartender Jeanne O’Leary in 2016.
“I dreamed up Poof from the desire to be an entrepreneur,” she said. “The concept popped in my head one day, and I was pounding the pavement the next. I got a retainer on a wedding that very day. It wasn’t until I catered that wedding that I realized what I’d done. I literally spin up happiness. It’s incredible — the sweeping nostalgia, the ear-to-ear grins. These are what fuel my fire.”
O’Leary said her focus now is on brand recognition.
“My long-term goal is to ruin pink and blue cotton candy for EVERYONE!” she said. “When people think of cotton candy they’ll think Poof – dangerously delicious and re-imagined cotton candy!”
In 2016, Tank and the Bangas broke onto the scene, soon to follow up an impromptu People to Watch performance with appearances on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. This follows in a fine line of notable musicians, starting with Allan Toussaint’s designation as a person to watch in 1978.
President and CEO
The Historic New Orleans Collection
This past spring, The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) opened its new exhibition center at 520 Royal Street. The organization’s new president as of July 1, 2019, Daniel Hammer, said the 36,000-square-foot, $38 million center was a huge challenge due to both its scale and timeline.
“There were a lot of moving parts, and when we finally established a definite, known date for opening day, we immediately felt like we were months behind schedule,” he said. “THNOC staff stepped directly up to this challenge and the opening was a huge success, as has been every day since.”
Hammer said THNOC is moving forward with an ambitious exhibition schedule that includes multiple exhibitions on display simultaneously.
“We will be doing lots of programs and activities to go along with our exhibitions,” he said. “I hope everyone who reads this comes to experience what we do and joins us as we continue to grow.”
DC Paul aka #TheMillennialArsenio
Radio Host, Entrepreneur, Comedian, Actor
DC Paul says performing arts and entertainment have been his passions for as long as he can remember.
He can regularly be heard on WBOK radio. He also hosts the New Orleans Jazz Market’s “Jam Sessions” every Wednesday, which incorporates a cross-section of novice and seasoned singers, spoken-word poets, rappers and musicians of various backgrounds. And he’s a comedian who created the weekly stand-up comedy open mic event at Bar Redux and can be seen regularly delivering jokes at House of Blues among other venues.
His repertoire is expansive, and much of his work focuses on showcasing the talents of the black creative community; the current generation, he says, is “impressively dynamic.”
Ever-ambitious, he noted, “I would like to be a household name in the entertainment and media industry. I am always creating and seizing opportunities.”
Juliet Meeks O’Keefe
Juliet Meeks Design
Artist Juliet Meeks O’Keefe can’t imagine doing anything other than manifesting visual worlds through her work. A former graphic designer for Gambit, she opened her own business four years ago and continues to be surprised as she juggles all aspects of running her own business and perpetually evolving as a creator.
She creates original art and products, for sale through her website, julietmeeks.com, and in-person at her Mid-City studio. She also collaborates with brands including Anthropologie, Birchbox, Cloud9 Fabrics, and teaches workshops related to watercolor and art licensing.
“This past year has brought big changes,” she said. She moved to a new studio, released her first official painting collections and taught fellow artists. “There were lots of firsts, so I’m looking forward to a steady year ahead of focusing on my favorite projects.”
Artist, performer and creative director
Known for over-the-top spectacles that incorporate dance, aerial activity, Houdini-esque illusions, circus, drag, singing and burlesque, LadyBEAST runs her own show – but also collaborates with well-known entities including Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! and The Laguinitas Beer Circus. She also just delivered a TED talk. “It was an honor to share the stage with so many intellectuals in their specialized field and to be considered one in my own field,” she said.
“I chose my career because I was an athlete prior, and a visual and performance artist, so circus and entertainment felt like the perfect fusion of those two things for me,” she said.
LadyBEAST’s long-term goals include performing nationally: “I’ve been taking every opportunity that will help my business and myself grow as an artist.”
New Orleans Magazine’s 1992 People to Watch recognized Hoda Kotb, a new New Orleans transplant and fresh weekend anchor and reporter for WWLTV. We think she did alright for herself later on.
Radio Play-By-Play Announcer
New Orleans Pelicans
Todd Graffagnini’s voice will soon resonate with basketball fans throughout the Crescent City. As the brand-new radio play-by-play announcer for the New Orleans Pelicans, on the cusp of what should be an exciting season, he spent the summer learning the ropes of the NBA and getting to know his new colleagues after leaving his former job calling games for Tulane sports.
He always wanted to be a broadcaster. “My grandmother had her old cassette tapes of me talking into a tape recorder while watching boxing matches with my grandfather,” he recalled. “I guess you could say the first time I picked up a microphone and talked into it, I was hooked.”
In the long run, he hopes to represent the Pelicans to his best ability, “in the broadcast booth and in the community.”
Director of Operations
Aunt Sally’s Pralines
Lenny Zichichi recently celebrated his third anniversary at Aunt Sally’s Pralines, where he handles all aspects of the supply chain. His responsibilities include monitoring quality, cost and production of more than 2 million pralines that are sold annually.
A self-described strategist, Zichichi says his career offers him challenges and opportunities to think critically and creatively. Last year, the company had its highest sales in its 84-year history; Zichichi says new packaging and products are also on the horizon.
“I also love bringing people and business together,” he said. “My job does not just encompass looking at numbers; rather, a large part of my role is within management and motivating my staff. I find it enriching to be able to offer someone a work experience that emphasizes open communication, teamwork and positive attitudes.”
Another television break-out was New Orleans native Ellen Degeneres, who was highlighted in 1994 with her new ABC show “These Friends of Mine,” as well as her successful stand up career.
Owner and Operator
Born into the restaurant business, Mark Latter’s father ran Tujague’s Restaurant for 32 years before Latter took it over with his wife, Candace, in 2013. In 2016, he opened the restaurant and wine bar Bar Frances on Freret Street, and this past May, Latter opened Claret Wine & Cocktail Bar on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. He currently also serves on the board of the Louisiana Restaurant Association.
“We have another concept in the works [in the Lower Garden District] that should open in the beginning of next year,” said Latter, who added that he would like to continue to grow Latter Hospitality in New Orleans, and possibly expand to a unit or two outside of New Orleans, even outside of Louisiana.
Stella Baty Landis
Longue Vue House and Gardens
Fascinated by creative expression, Dr. Stella Baty Landis says that art “serves as a powerful tool when we don’t see eye to eye and must work through different perspectives or challenging issues.”
In May, Landis was granted the position of executive director of Longue Vue House and Gardens, the former residence of prominent civic leaders Edgar and Edith Stern, that is now a museum.
Inspired by their legacy, Landis says upcoming programs will include topics of voting rights (a special cause for Edith) and equity in health care and education, which especially concerned Edgar.
“I want our programs to reflect the full range of interests and backgrounds represented by different communities of the city and for our campus to feel open and welcoming to all.”
Chief Executive Officer
World Trade Center New Orleans
This past May, the World Trade Center of New Orleans announced that it had chosen a new leader, businessman and president and CEO of the World Trade Center Kentucky, Ed Webb.
“With my team, we serve as the voice and a business resource for international trade in Louisiana,” said Webb. “This includes cultivating and managing relationships with key trading countries, as well as keeping our clients abreast of trade-related issues and their impact on business and Louisiana.
Webb stepped into the role in mid-June and says he looks forward to marking his first 90 days with the World Trade Center New Orleans.
“A very respected gentleman, Fred Starr, reminds me regularly that my role at this point is much like walking into an active game of chess: observe and observe some more before making a move,” he said. “There’s a lot of wisdom and experience in his words.”
Sophie Harris Vorhoff
Friends of Lafitte Greenway
The City of New Orleans broke ground on the $9.1 million Lafitte Greenway — a 2.6-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail and green corridor that connects neighborhoods from Armstrong Park to City Park — in March 2014. That fall, Sophie Harris Vorhoff became the first executive director of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, making her responsible for helping to shape enhancements and partnerships, as well as create programming for the greenway, which opened November 2015 and is used by over 300,000 people each year.
“In the coming year, we are focused on pushing forward work to complete the final 1/2 mile of the Lafitte Greenway’s trail, connecting to Canal Boulevard as envisioned in the Lafitte Greenway Master Plan,” said Vorhoff. “I am also thrilled about the work we are doing in partnership with the Arts Council and the community to activate the Greenway with public art, as well as cultural and community events.”
A Saintly tradition of watching people continued in 2002 with the recognition of Deuce McAllister after his first year with the team, and 2006, with a profile of new head coach Sean Payton (noting that he had a long year ahead and that this was our year, surely.)
Director of Athletics
University of New Orleans
As the newly minted director of athletics for University of New Orleans, Tim Duncan’s responsibilities include development, management and supervision of a competitive, intercollegiate program. He works with nearly 50 coaches and support staff and close to 200 athletes; other duties include collaborating with the UNO development office to raise funds; recruit and manage coaches and administrative staff; and ensure compliance with all university national association and conference policies. A former college athlete himself, Duncan says one of his main goals is to help student-athletes achieve growth, both academically and athletically.
“I am an advocate of seeking and empowering the collective voices of our student-athletes,” he said. By embracing the way that they receive and process information, he says that UNO Athletics will be in a unique position to attract and retain top-caliber student athletes.