As a child, Andrew “Pete” Sanchez Jr. used to watch his mother, cousins and aunt ride in the Zulu parade on the Zulu Shadows float. “They rode for 20 years,” he said.
As a young man in 1977, he saw his father portray the Big Shot, one of the chief Zulu characters.
This Mardi Gras, Sanchez will occupy his own highly visible place in the parade: He will lead it as the 100th king of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. (Although the club was founded in 1909 before being chartered in 1916, a monarch was not chosen during World Wars I and II and in 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina.)
The 2015 theme is “A Salute to the Founding Fathers of Zulu.”
Riding in the parade as queen will be the king’s wife, Janice T. Sanchez, whose childhood Carnival days also were centered on the Zulu parade.
“I was an Uptown girl and remember walking down Melpomene, going out to Jackson and Claiborne to watch the Zulu parade. My mother and siblings would pack our lunch,” she said. “We would get up early in the morning. And like little children, we all wanted a coconut” — the signature Zulu souvenir. Did she get one? “Oh, yes.”
The royal couple are almost newlyweds; they will celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary in June. “We were out one night and happened to be introduced by friends,” King Sanchez said when asked how they met.
He is a sales and marketing representative who was chairman of Zulu’s Carnival activities the past 10 years. An 18-year member of the club, he also served on the board of directors for eight years.
She is an educator with a doctorate in mathematics and science education who is an instructional coach at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School. During appearances at local schools in her royal role, she has emphasized the importance of education in improving one’s quality of life.
On the day of this interview, their majesties had stopped at Zulu headquarters on North Broad Street for a quick lunch after being presented, along with the krewe characters, at a New Orleans City Council meeting. They wore his-and-hers blazers, in a shade that could be called Zulu gold, and fringed and sequined sashes identifying them as Zulu royalty.
At the rate of their pre-parade public appearances, it seemed that attire might be worn out by Ash Wednesday.
Kings of Zulu are elected by the club membership after some serious campaigning. “Saluting All That Is Carnival” was Sanchez’s campaign slogan, in recognition of the many activities that lead up to the coronation ball on the Friday before Mardi Gras and then the Fat Tuesday parade.
“We begin the Carnival season with a church service. We have the maids’ brunch and the tribute to the characters,” he said, mentioning just a few of the entries on the Zulu calendar.
Other events include the unveiling of the Zulu poster (created again this year by Terrance Osborne), the opening of an exhibit at Lakeside Mall (it’s up through Thursday) and the daylong Lundi Gras Festival at Woldenberg Park in the French Quarter.
Both of this year’s monarchs have participated in past Zulu parades. Her favorite part of the experience always has been seeing the children’s faces, the queen said: “I’m all about the children.”
Indeed, of Zulu’s community service programs, the queen and the king agreed that the one closest to both their hearts is Toys for Tots.
Another interest they share lies in the future of the Lower 9th Ward, where the 2015 Zulu king’s flag has been flying at their home off North Claiborne Avenue.
In 2012, Pete and Janice Sanchez, along with his mother, June Sanchez, were recognized by the City Council for the Sanchez family’s “continuing commitment to redevelopment and revitalization of the 9th Ward neighborhood.”
The soon-to-be-dedicated Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center on Caffin Avenue is named for the king’s late father, who was the city’s director of property management in the Moon Landrieu administration. Replacing a similarly named facility destroyed by the post-Katrina flood, the brand-new center is set for dedication next month.
In the meantime, however, his majesty’s attention is focused citywide. And the wish he and his queen have for their city is “for everyone to have a truly happy and safe Mardi Gras.”
In Carnival terms, that qualifies as a royal command.