The Sweet Potato Queens, long a highlight of Mal’s St. Paddy’s Parade (rechristened in 2016 to honor founder Malcom White’s late brother, Hal), spun off into the Zippity Doo Dah Parade and Festival in Fondren in 2011.
This reunion, plus a new calendar spot on March’s fourth weekend, also cleared the way to recruit marching bands for the parade, which spring break timing prevented in the past. “We decided a few years ago that we wanted to move in that direction,” says parade founder White. “We had enough floats, we had enough crazy marching groups. We had enough brass bands. We wanted marching bands — organized, institutional bands. With uniforms.”
He’d also been talking with Sweet Potato Queens creator/author Jill Conner Browne “about getting the band back together,” he says. “We are very happy to have them come back.” Browne’s best-selling Sweet Potato Queen books inspired fan chapters across the country and beyond. Hundreds came to Jackson each year to participate in the parade, often donning tiaras, sequins and sashes that proclaimed them queens of whatever.
The parade theme this year is “A Magical Mystery Tour,” with chef/restaurateur Robert St. John as the parade marshal.
The parade begins at 1 p.m. on March 23. The plan is, Sweet Potato Queens and entourage will lead the City Sweep that precedes the parade, joining the donation collection for Children’s of Mississippi (which includes Batson Children’s Hospital plus clinics statewide) and then board their float and ride in the parade. Wannabes will fall in where they wanna.
The parade’s timing overlaps with the final weekend of New Stage Theatre’s production of the new “Sweet Potato Queens” musical, based on Browne’s books. Fans are giddy at the prospect of enjoying both.
“The Wannabes are completely out of their minds, but they already were,” Browne says with a fond chuckle. “They’re really excited about the musical and they’re very excited about being back downtown and in the big parade, because there are more people to see them. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree on that.
“We do love an audience.”
Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade & Festival Schedule:
5 p.m. Hal’s Marching Malfunction & Second Line Stomp at Cathead Distillery
7 a.m. Float lineup begins (State at Court streets)
8 a.m. Credit Unions for Kids St. Paddy’s 5K (Pascagoula Street at Jackson Convention Complex)
9 a.m. Hal’s St. Paddy’s Children’s Festival (West Street, front of Thalia Mara Hall)
10 a.m. Hollywood Feed Pet Parade (West Street beside Thalia Mara Hall)
11 a.m. Hal’s St. Paddy’s Children’s Parade (West Street beside Thalia Mara Hall)
1 p.m. Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade (starts corner of State and Court and proceeds on Court, West, Capitol and back to State)
3 p.m. Hal’s St. Paddy’s Festival (Hal & Mal’s, $10, with Mustache the Band, The Bluz Boys and Southern Komfort Brass Band)
More details: halsstpaddysparade.com