JOE PALCA, host:
Up next - well, you've waited for it all year. And now, finally, finally, it's Mardi Gras, the culmination of the carnival season between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, which is tomorrow.
In New Orleans, the Zulu Krewe takes to the street along with many other clubs for a final lavish parade.
(Soundbite of live music)
PALCA: It's a special year for the Zulu Krewe or the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, as it's more formally known. The primarily African-American club turns 100 this year. The Zulus helped to integrate Mardi Gras at a time when the celebrations were mainly an all-white affair. Zulu member Clarence Becknell remembers not even being able to watch the parades as a kid, but he says the Zulus gave the African-American community some much needed respect.
Mr. CLARENCE BECKNELL (Member, Zulu Krewe): Blacks weren't allowed there. You either got into a fight or something or you had to hear the racist remarks. The policeman used to push you back and put a white family in front of you. I mean, that's the kind of things we had to put up with. Well, when Zulu came around and started parading like we did, that put pride in the black community.
PALCA: Perhaps the most famous of the Zulu Krewe was Louis Armstrong. In 1949 Armstrong was named King Zulu and the mayor of New Orleans honored him with a plaque.
Mr. LOUIS ARMSTRONG (Jazz Trumpeter and Singer): Thank you very much, mayor. This is really a treat, this is the thrill of my life. I've always wanted to be the king of the Zulus. I've been a member all my life and this, right here, I'm going to frame this and I don't want anybody to to touch it! (Laughing)
PALCA: If you are in New Orleans today be sure to catch one of the painted coconuts the Zulus throw to the crowd - ouch, that sounds a little serious - which will become one of the prized keepsakes at Mardi Gras parades. And even if you're not in New Orleans, in spite of the gloomy economic times we live in, let's take a page from the New Orleans play book and Laissez les bon temps rouler.
(Soundbite of music)
PALCA: OK, Ron, get down off that table. (Laughing) that's some great dancing there, pal. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Joe Palca.
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