by Red Cotton
Versatile Ladies of Style at their 2009 parade
I was stunned when Versatile Ladies of Style president Cheryl Roberts told me quite offhandedly last month at Kermit’s Bar that this would be the final year her club will parade.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Versatile Ladies since I watched them steal the thunder from their brother club Sudan at their 2009 parade. I wrote about it here. The ladies were utter perfection, somehow managing to keep it at 100% for four hours straight. At the end of each second line I look like a hosed down civil rights activist; these sisters finish a parade looking like they’re leaving a leisurely lunch at Galatois.
Since that 2009 parade, I’ve seen them regularly out in force, supporting other clubs’ parades and parties, wearing fashionable color-coordinated outfits. Classy ladies, mid 30‘s I’d say, always smiling and being, well, just lovely and positive. It actually feels good to lay eyes on them. As such I had to get the scoop on why, after this Sunday’s parade with Sudan, New Orleans will no longer bear witness to the Versatile Ladies of Style’s fabulation on the second line scene.
(more below the jump!)
Roberts shared, “I decided I wanted to step back from second line parading. We want to work with youth, help them carry the legacy on. Also its challenging financially. Parade permits are high. The City keeps coming up with these new rules you need to get on the street. I’m one of those people that believes at the end of the day, there other ways to assist. We want to be more active with what’s happening behind the scenes, to make it easier for the younger people coming up behind us that wanna do this.”
Roberts and her clubmembers grew up together in the sixth and seventh wards around the Iberville and Lafitte projects, attended school at Craig Elementary and were members of the famous Tambourine and Fan Club, an afterschool program at the Treme Center founded by the local civil rights and cultural icon Jerome Smith. Roberts remembers, “Mr. Smith trained us about our culture, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman. He helped to instill positive morals and values. From there, we grew up got careers but we learned to give back. Most of us still have connection with Mr. Smith, we try to assist him with what he’s working on.”
After Hurricane Katrina separated the tight knit group, they began looking for ways to reunite on a regular basis. It was in 2007 that Cheryl and her girlfriends decided to form a parading club. “Some of our members relocated after the storm to Dallas, Abilene, Alabama. But they come in to parade. They come back to participate in activities, sell tickets to our events. I have two daughters and my oldest parades with me. She also came up in Tambourine and Fan.” In total, the club boasts 21 women - 16 paraders and five boosters that support the activities. They parade in November with the popular Treme men’s club ‘Sudan’, many of whose members also come from the Tambourine and Fan tradition and who agreed to let the Versatile Ladies join in their annual second line.
Roberts reflects further. “Everything we do is about overcoming struggle and what you do to give back, sharing our story, celebrating our culture. Some of our members have battled with drugs, different hardships, but we’ve overcome it. We have educators, social workers, hair dressers in our group. We keep reinventing ourselves. We’re ‘versatile’. That’s where our name came from.”
Preparing now for their final parade day, the president of style admitted what I had suspected: “We have a lady that comes through from Mac makeup and does our faces.” I KNEW Mac had a hand in their flawless and impenetrable presentation! She also shared this year’s second line colors, something most clubs refuse to do before parade day: Chocolate brown, burnt orange and turquoise. And their band of choice since their inception, the Free Agents will be performing.
“We’re excited”, Roberts says. “We’re gonna end strong. We gonna tear the streets up!”