Lundi Gras History
Researched and Compiled by The Historian Committee Clarence A. Becknell, Chairman Tom Price, Assistant Chairman
Lundi Gras Festival FansThe Zulu Social aid & Pleasure Club Inc. have played an integral part in Mardi Gras for decades and has continued to add fun filled activities for members and visitors to enjoy while at the same time adding a boost to the economy of New Orleans.
The Zulu's Lundi Gras Festival began in 1993 from an idea by George Rainey of Zulu and Ms. Karen Noles of the Audubon Nature Institute. The purpose of this activity was to have an event along the riverfront the Monday before Mardi Gras Day involving Zulu Float Characters and culminating with the arrival of King and Queen Zulu.
THUS THE ZULU LUNDI GRAS FESTIVAL WAS BORN.
The festival allows citizens and visitors a close up look at the Characters of Zulu. Some of New Orleans's finest Restaurants and Caterers provide food to satisfy the appetites of festival goers and the music is provided by New Orleans own talented and well known musicians, as well as Zulu memorabilia and other arts and crafts are displayed in the African Village. And of course, the largest Second Line ever formed featuring local Brass Bands for the public to enjoy.
Oscar Piper and Elleneese Brooks Sims reigned as King and Queen Zulu the year the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival was established. They also played an integral part in the planning stages of the festival. Prior to the festival, King Zulu would arrive in the Basin Canal on Mardi Gras Day. When the canal was closed, King Zulu arrived at the foot of Canal Street on that day. The tradition of King Zulu arriving by boat on Mardi Grads Day began in 1917 when James Robertson reigned as King Zulu until 1993 when the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival was born. He now arrives the evening of Lundi Gras on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter.
Lundi Gras Festival contracted an outside promotion company, the Music Group for the first two years, to managed the Festival. In 1995, a committee of Zulu Members was formed to manage and plan the festival. Gary Thornton chaired the committee in 1995 and 1996. Under his leadership, the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival began to show promise. In 1997, Lester Pollard Jr. was appointed Chairman of the Festival and during his tenure and leadership the festival has grown tremendously. The continual growth of the festival expanded to a second entertainment stage at the Aquarium Plaza to accommodate the enormous crowds in attendance.
Nick Harris, Chairman of Public Relations for Zulu and Lester Pollard Jr. conceived the idea of having a Press Conference to highlight the Zulu Characters and the Lundi Gras Entertainment. This press conference was so successful, the introduction and unveiling of the Zulu Mardi Gras Poster and Artist, Festival Food Vendors, recognition of Festival Sponsors, City Officials, and a host of others were added to the Press Conference.
In 1999, the Zulu organization recognized the attendance of many children enjoying the festival activities as well as adults and introduced a new concept of entertainment to the festival. In 2001, the Zulu organization introduced the “Zulu Children's Village “, sponsored by Frito Lay. The purpose of this village was to allow the youth of the community to display their talents through music, art, and drama productions. This also gave local elementary, middle, and high school youth the opportunity for exposure and participation.
Lundi Gras Festival DancersIn 2004, Michael Johnson was appointed to chair the 2005 Lundi Gras Festival Committee. However, prior to promoting the festival, he became ill. President Charles Hamilton appointed Cornelius Garner, Jr.as the new Chairman of the Lundi Gras Festival Committee coordinating the 2005 Festival promotion and its activities. As preparations were being made, for the 2006 Festival, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans causing considerable damage to Woldenberg Park, home of the Lundi Gras Festival.
After assessing the damages, the Woldenburg Park Canal Street entrance was decided upon as the site of the 2006 festival. Due to Hurricane Katrina, the 2006 festival was scaled back to one stage with the same activities as in the past ... with the exception of the 2006 elected Zulu characters. Their reign will take place during the 2007 carnival season. Former Zulu Characters of past festivals paraded throughout the day, handing out Zulu's traditional Lundi Gras coconuts to its revelers. At 5:00 pm, former Zulu Kings with their entourage arrived by U.S. Coast Guard cutter to the festival.
In 2007, led by Larry Hammond, Derek Rabb and Cornelius Garner, Jr. the 2008 Lundi Gras Festival was shown on live Television by Cox Communications. Hopefully this continues to be an annual event.
In 2013 Lester Pollard, Jr. Chairman with the approval of the board of directors introduced to the festival a VIP seating section in front of the King Zulu Stage. This seating section was successfully recieved and has become a permanent part of the festival.
At the September 20, 2017 Board meeting President Naaman C. Stewart made a motion that Lester Pollard, Jr. be given the title of Chairman Emeritus Zulu Lundi Gras Festival. The motion was duly seconded and passed by the Board. At the general membership meeting on October 1, 2017 the motion was ratified.
The Zulu Lundi Gras Festival attracts an average of 150,000 revelers to Woldenberg Park each year. As a matter of fact, the University of New Orleans states that the Zulu's Lundi Gras Festival economic impact to the City of New Orleans is estimated to be $ 5 Million Dollars for this one-day event.
Although King Zulu now arrives the day before Fat Tuesday on Lundi Gras Day, the excitement has not changed. In fact, the festival continues to grow each year and has made a positive impact on the economy of the Riverfront of New Orleans. It has taken a part of the riverfront -- Woldenberg Park, an area that was inactive for many years -- to one of the busiest areas filled with activities for all to enjoy.
The Zulu Lundi Gras Festival, a traditional day of merriment the day before Mardi Gras, truly keeps with the saying “The Greatest Free Show On Earth!”