Whenever there’s a discussion about which Carnival krewes have earned the designation "super," there is never a doubt that the Krewe of Orpheus debuted as a charter member of the club.
Having exploded on the scene in 1994 as the only such organization to include both men and women, Orpheus quickly made its mark on Lundi Gras evening, which had lost the Proteus parade the year before.
The idea for the parade came from musician Harry Connick Jr., who wanted to start his own parade after having reigned as Bacchus for that krewe’s silver anniversary.
He enlisted the help of Sonny Borey, his former drama teacher at Jesuit High School. Borey was no stranger to Carnival. His mother, Helen Koenig, sold feathers, beads, glitter and other costume supplies to Mardi Gras Indians and Carnival revelers from local costume shops for decades. What’s more, he knew how to stage a production. “To me, a parade is nothing more than theater on wheels,” Borey says.
The first Orpheus parade on Feb. 14, 1994, featured Little Richard, Vanessa Williams, Dan Aykroyd and Connick himself, plus local music stars selected to tie into the co-founder’s day job: Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Al Hirt, Frankie Ford, Branford Marsalis and the Dixie Cups.
Among the scores of celebrities who have appeared in Orpheus over the years are Sandra Bullock, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers, David Copperfield, Quincy Jones, Quentin Tarantino and Glenn Close. Locals Anne Rice and Patricia Clarkson also have ridden as celebrity monarchs.
Orpheus has several signature floats including Smokey Mary, which depicts the steam engine of the former Pontchartrain Railroad. In its second year, Orpheus debuted the Trojan Horse.
It was the Leviathan sea serpent float, introduced in 1998, which drew the biggest applause — literally. “Normally people scream for beads as the float passes by,” Borey said. “As the Leviathan went down the street, with its new fiber optic lighting, they were clapping. That was the most gratifying thing. There had never been a float like that before.”
The stars who ride in the parade are popular, but it’s the artistry of the floats that has made Orpheus a consistent favorite with parade critics and crowds. Much of the credit goes to artistic designer Derek Franklin. He and his team design, produce and place hundreds of paper flowers on the floats once the Blaine Kern Artists team completes its work. The finished creation gives Orpheus its special look.
Each year, Orpheus salutes a local figure from the world of music by minting a special 2½-inch doubloon bearing the musician’s image. Among the honorees have been Professor Longhair, Louis Prima, Mahalia Jackson and Allen Toussaint. For 2018, Pete Fountain will be honored.
For the 25th anniversary parade, the 1,400 male and female members will appear on 38 floats. Two new signature floats will be unveiled, one honoring the Mystery and Magic of Carnival and the other bringing to life the krewe’s motto, “Rhythm, Rhyme, Revelry.”
Also expect the krewe to pay homage to the city's tricentennial in a big way. The Smokey Mary float has been repurposed to salute the city’s special anniversary.
The post-parade Orpheuscapade at the Morial Convention Center has been titled the NOLA 300 Jam Fest and will feature nine New Orleans acts including Trombone Shorty, Deacon John and Irma Thomas.
Email Arthur Hardy at email@example.com.