Credit: J. Nash Porter / NEA
NEW ORLEANS -- It isn’t very often that a Mardi Gras Indian travels from the streets of Central City to the Library of Congress, but Chief Bo Dollis will do just that in September. That’s when he’ll receive one of the nation’s highest honors for folk arts – a National Heritage Fellowship and $25,000 award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The award, to be announced Friday, is the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Dollis is one of nine recipients this year. Another Mardi Gras Indian icon - Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana, who died in 2005 - was honored with the same award in 1987.
Dollis, 67, is leader of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indian tribe. He has masked as an Indian for more than 45 years and become known even more for his musical talents, performing signature songs such as “Handa Wanda” with the Wild Magnolias.
In its citation honoring him, the National Endowment for the Arts praises Dollis for taking “the music and traditions of New Orleans from community gatherings to festivals and concert halls in cities all over the world.”
A native of Central City, Dollis became chief of the Wild Magnolias, named for the neighborhood’s Magnolia St., in 1964. As a young man, he first became exposed to the Indian traditions through the White Eagles tribe and later masked for the first time with the Golden Arrows.
Dollis and the Wild Magnolias performed at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and have since performed with New Orleans music greats such as Allen Toussaint, Earl King and Snooks Eaglin.
Dollis and the other NEA honorees will be invited to travel to Washington, D.C. in September for an awards presentation and banquet at the Library of Congress, as well as a concert.
“These artists represent the highest level of artistic mastery and we are proud to recognize their achievements,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman in a news release. “Through their contributions, we have been challenged, enlightened, and charmed, and we thank them for devoting their careers to expanding and supporting their art forms.”
Dollis joins previous Louisiana honorees including the Treme Brass Band, New Orleans jazzman Dr. Michael White and Cajun artists Michael Doucet, Dewey Balfa and “Boozoo” Chavis, as well as the co-founders of the Louisiana favorites, the Hackberry Ramblers: Luderin Darbone and Edwin Duhon.
Nationally-known honorees in the past have included bluesman B.B. King, bluegrass icon Bill Monroe and gospel greats Shirley Caesar and Mavis Staples.