Uptown celebrations continue for Big Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, who died Jan. 20
Bo Dollis, Jr. has sung for his father's spirit every night since the older man's death. The pioneering Mardi Gras Indian leader, who had masked as Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias since 1964, died at home on the morning of Tuesday (Jan. 20), just under a week after his 71stbirthday. That evening, Gerard "Bo Jr." Dollis and his mother Rita, the Wild Magnolias' Big Queen, were joined at the Sportsman's Corner bar on 2nd and Dryades streets — the Indian gang's longtime home base — by a crowd of Mardi Gras Indians, fans and supporters to shout and dance in celebration of Bo Dollis, Sr.'s life.
On Wednesday (Jan. 21), they also gathered, this time at Pop's House of Blues on Dryades, another popular Uptown second-line stop; tonight around 7 p.m. (Jan. 22), they'll come together yet again at the Uptown Bar (formerly Bean Brothers) on 3rd and Danneel streets.
"My Indian family has been doing Indian practice every night — singing, dancing and taking it to the streets, a big old celebration," Bo Dollis, Jr. said Thursday afternoon on WWOZ's "New Orleans Music Show." "I just love everybody for doing it. And we're going to keep doing it, at whatever bar my dad was known at." On Friday night (Jan. 23), he said, they'll meet, along with Da Truth Brass Band, at the Purple Rain Lounge on Washington Avenue.
In recent years, as his father was increasingly troubled by failing health, Bo Jr. had slowly assumed the role of Big Chief. He masked alongside his mother on Mardi Gras morning and St. Joseph's night, with Bo Dollis Sr. riding in a motorized wheelchair as the gang's council chief. In the 1970s, the elder Bo Dollis had recorded groundbreaking albums melding traditional Indian chants, original songs and hard-biting, gritty electric funk; in 2013, for the first time, Bo Jr. recorded an album, "New Kind of Funk," fronting the Wild Magnolias band.
It was Bo Jr.'s birthday on Thursday. That day on WWOZ, two days after his father's passing, he told listeners how he had been stricken to his soul by Bo Sr.'s sickness and death.
"I had a point, when it first happened, that I was about to stop masking Indian," he said. "I wasn't going to come out this year. Because me and my dad were two peas in a pod. Wherever he went, I was his shadow, going to Indian practice at 12 o'clock at night. All those things, he installed in me at a young age."
Friends came to his aid, he said, offering words of encouragement and help with sewing his Indian suit. And the memory of his father, he said, inspired him to keep going.
"He was a humble, humble man who had a big heart," Rita Dollis said of her husband on WWOZ Thursday. "I met Bo in 1976. He showed me the ropes — I had come up kind of afraid of Indians, but he changed my vision about the culture absolutely. The culture was in his blood. He shared the music with everybody and he made Mardi Gras for everybody, bringing his music all over the world. He was a good, warm person and everybody loved him."
"It's big shoes to fill," said Bo Jr. "I felt my dad looking down on me and he installed a chief's position in me. This is what God gave me, and I'm going to take it."
"He took the Mardi Gras Indians to another level, and now it's my turn to open doors in other places."
A viewing for Big Chief Bo Dollis is tentatively scheduled for the evening of Friday (Jan. 30), Rita Dollis and her son said Thursday on the air. The venue has yet to be determined.