by Red Cotton
This Sunday is the 14th annual second line parade for the Dumaine Street Gang, one of the most beloved social aid and pleasure clubs to come out of the Historic Faubourg Treme. Your girl Big Red recently caught up with this year’s DSG King James Henry, a man I met several years ago while filming his club’s parade. Laughing, drinking, dancing, clowning - he was one of the ones having the most fun out of a street full of hundreds of partying people. I immediately took to him. Ran into him at a party recently and he proudly announced he was to be this year’s King. Of course I immediately began plying him with nosey questions about his exclusive member’s only honor.
So before we get into the business of the King’s reign, lets get the most important intel the people really wanna know - what are the club’s parade colors this year??? Folks who follow second lines love to dress in solidarity with their favorite social aid and pleasure clubs. But for most clubs, their parade colors are a heavily guarded secret until the band strikes up and club comes out the door.
(get the scoop below the jump)
“I can tell you now - the colors are cobalt blue and banana yellow”, says King Henry. “Tradition is to keep the secret as long as you can cause people will try to wear what you’re wearing first so they can say ‘oh we wore that first’. And we have a reputation for always looking really nice. We keep the colors a secret till a month or so no one can get it. Most of the time, only a few people in the club know until its very close then the rest of us find out. There’s a joke: ‘You gonna go home and tell you wife then she gonna get on the phone and then everybody will know!’ ”
This will be Henry’s seventh year rolling with DSG. And although not originally from Treme, he’s nonetheless an honorary member of the iconic neighborhood where many Black residents are third or fourth generation natives, born into the indigenous cultural trinity of brass band musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, and social aid and pleasure clubs. “I graduated from Kennedy and grew up in 7th ward but I hung in the 6th ward. My first girlfriend lived in 6th ward. I ended up being with her for a long time. Lot of things I did for the first time I did in the 6th ward,” he says with a smile.
Still, being crowned ‘King of the Dumaine Street Gang’ is a Treme lineage-specific honor of sorts for Henry. While many social aid and pleasure clubs elect or appoint non-members to their royal court, the DSG only allows members from within its ranks to reign. “The 6th ward has a lotta old tradition and being the king of Treme is like an honor, I have to carry that torch with pride”, says Henry. He adds laughing, “You know thats a challenge for me cause you know how crazy I get at the second lines!”
His Highness is also quick to let you know he’s not the silver spoon-style royalty. In addition to participating in numerous DSG club activities, the hard working king performs community service such as feeding the homeless with his church, holds a job with the State and owns several businesses including a landscaping company called ‘Keep It Clean’. “I put a lotta my time, money, and effort into my club. I didn’t have to take a loan out to do this. I did it cutting grass. And believe me, it ain’t easy getting out there cutting grass in 100 degree weather.”
King Henry, who also celebrates a birthday the weekend of his royal reign, says being elected king is coming at a time when many aspects of his life are peaking. “I started at the bottom, been working hard, striving hard to be the best I can be, working on other parts of my life. I feel like I’m really blossoming right now in my entire life, getting to the next level of being a grown positive black man.”
And in a seemingly gut reflex to the stereotypes often associated with the culture, he adds “Sometimes people look at second lines as a bad element but most of the people in it are positive. Second lining is a good outlet for having fun - organized fun. I wanna keep making progress, being King will help me springboard into more positive things. I’m just trying to have a real good time and be the best I can be.”
For those of us standing outside, nose pressed against the window peering in, asking ‘What would it be like to be King for a day?’, King Henry runs down his itinerary. “The night before the parade, I’ll stay in hotel like the J.W. Marriott. Then I’m gonna get dressed, have an early brunch, then head over to (Treme) center to get my king’s suit on. We’ll have the music playing, drinking, building our bond together. All the differences we may have gone through together this year, we put all that aside and feel happy because we got through it together. After that, we get in a big circle we pray. We’ll be praying for pretty weather and the sun to come out, for everyone to come with a good attitude and keep the violence at home. Then the band strikes up at 12 on the dot - cause our club tries to always be on time.”
He pauses, then sums up the day: “Riding through the 6th ward, through all the traditional streets, is like a dream come true. I’m gonna have the time of my life.”
The Dumaine Street Gang parade rolls out of the Treme Center, St. Phillip and Villere, at 12 noon on Sunday. Route sheet here. You can also party with King James Henry and the Dumaine Street Gang tonight (Friday) at their Pre-Parade Dance at The Fountain of Youth 3100 St. Roch St. 9pm - 1am $7 cover.