The Original Illinois Club Inc.

“Reigning as the 2015 queen of the Original Illinois Ball was one of the most memorable events of my life. I was given the opportunity to develop friendships with other OIC debutantes whom I will always cherish and I feel proud to carry on the family tradition.” So said Miss Taylor Renee Harris, daughter of Mr. Andrew Ponder Harris and Ms. Crishelle McConduit Hoffman. King Illinois was Mr. John Michael Blanchard and Mr. Mark V. Joseph Sr., the ball captain.

“Beyond Gravity: A Salute to African Americans in Flight” titled the 114th ball and debutante cotillion that unfolded in the Alario Center. The age-old dream of soaring through the air like a bird was rendered through the tableau.

Notables included OIC President E. J. Roberts, master of ceremonies Rick Amos, Dr. Robert R. Newsome Sr. and his daughter, Miss Amanda Christine Newsome, the 2014 queen, to whom he presented a bouquet of roses. Her royal maids included Misses Kayla Felicia-Marie Allain, Cierra Elizabeth Byrd, Nila Renee Cannon, Samantha Marie Morris, while Misses Ashley Elizbeth Cantrell, Asia Monet Cleggett, Kayla Marles Neville and Meagan Ashley Suttleff were royal debutantes.

After the presentation of King Illinois 2015 — the above Mr. Blanchard, who was escorted by past monarchs H. Kenneth Johnston, Anthony F. Maheia, and Lynn J. Dedeaux, and accompanied by personal pages little Misses Brooke Christina Blanchard and Grace Felice Hammond — he was directed to his royal seat. The next appearance was that of the 2015 royal debutantes Misses Mignon Benea Blanc, Kayla Shaniece Crump, Sydney Camille Labat, Terri Pacely, Donje-Carrielle Rogers, Cianne Mnemostyne Smith, and Charese Lauchelle Williams.

Escorted by her grandfather, OIC member Mack B. Harris, and King Illinois 2001 William J. Washington, her majesty Taylor Renee arrived for her monarchal role. Her personal pages were little Misses Courtney Trenee Barthe, Royelle Mia Robins, and Taylor Denise Thompson. King Illinois 2015 then descended the throne to greet her. With “All Hail! All Hail!” as the homage, Queen Illinois led the traditional Royal Promenade, directed by the ball captain. The Leroy Pero Orchestra played.

Additional features of the ball included recognitions and presentations, acknowledgements, special presentations to “Flight” honorees (Messrs. Calvin Moret and Feltus Kennedy), toasts, a further promenade led by both monarchs, and dancing by the debutantes and the OIC escorts to the traditional Chicago Glide. It was introduced to the organization by the founder, Mr. Wiley Knight, and performed at each ball since 1895. The accompanying music was “Dance, Dance, Queen Illinois” by Mr. G.R. Holland and Dr. V.E. Smith, which was introduced at the 1965 cotillion, a half century ago. The royals that year were Joan Duplain Rhodes and Joseph O. Misshore Jr., and the theme was “The Glory of Rome.”

Queen Taylor was glorious in a gown by Elaine B. Walter. It featured a bodice with a pattern of embellished rose petals and a skirt of imported tulle beaded throughout with tiny rhinestones. Her royal accessories were the magnificent collar of silver metallic lace, the mantle of white velvet with ermine trim, and a sparkling crown and scepter.

Her mother, Crishelle McConduit Hoffman, wore a Belsoie black dress with a bolero jacket, and her grandmothers, Andrea Harris and Denise McConduit, were respectively outfitted in a mulberry-colored Adrianna Papell gown and a champagne-hued Betsy Adams two-piece ensemble. Seated near them were Mmes. Regina Blanchard, Tamere Joseph and Barbara Roberts.

All eyes also turned to the ball captain, who, in keeping with the theme, wore khaki pants and shirt, a dark brown tie, a black leather bomber jacket, a pilot’s hat, a neck scarf and aviator glasses.

“Flight” was the operative word for the evening when spirits soared, and the presence of a radiant queen and worthy king uplifted the Carnival ambiance.

  • Partying with a Royal Purpose

To honor their daughter before the ball, Mr. Harris and Ms. Hoffman held a debutante party for Taylor Renee Harris at the Great Southern Club in Gulfport, Mississippi, with “formal attire” as the stated dress. The OIC sponsor was Mr. Mack B. Harris, who attended with his wife.

The pretty decorations included centerpieces of candles, birdcages and candelabra adorned with fresh-cut lavender and pink roses. Adding to the atmosphere was subdued lighting from crystal chandeliers, white linens for the tables, and a stupendous view. The club is situated atop the Hancock Bank Building and guests peered out into the night.

Additional highlights were the catering by the Great Southern Club (and a three-tiered cake), music by James Andrews and the Crescent City All Stars, and the presentation of Taylor Renee by her aunt, Erica McConduit Diggs. The occasion and toast were done in turn by the above Mr. Blanchard (the OIC king) and Dr. Newsome; the honoree’s cousin, Macy Jones, performed a dance solo; and Mary Jones sang a tribute to Taylor Renee. To remember this special evening, the hosts provided personal gifts to each deb of jewelry engraved with their initials, and frog salt and pepper shakers and candleholders for the OIC members.

Joining in the lovely levity were the above Denise McConduit, Dr. and Mrs. Theron Evans Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Jerry L. Griffith, Dr. and Mrs. Roy L. Irons, Crystal Labat, the Willie R. Heards, the Robert Whites, Doris Sims, the Frank Masons, the Clyde Williamses, the Kenneth Caseys, and Mr. and Mrs. Merlin Hines. All relished “A Royal Evening with Princess Taylor,” who, shortly afterward, answered to queen.