Mardi Gras 2018 is Tuesday, February 13th
The Krewe of Rex and the King of Carnival
New Orleans' Premiere Mardi Gras Parading Organization
Rex, The King of Carnival
photo by Kate Elkins, Courtesy of The Rex Organization
In addition to annually crowning "Rex”, New Orleans' de facto "King of Carnival”, the Krewe of Rex is a massive organization with many revered traditions and deep roots in the New Orleans community, a lengthy commitment to charitable giving, and a reputation for staging a jaw-dropping Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday) parade that many consider to be the pinnacle of Carnival in New Orleans.
While New Orleans krewes are some of the most engaged and spirited parading organizations anywhere (making valuable contributions to their communities all year-round and staging dazzlingly Carnival celebrations), the Krewe of Rex has a reputation for consistently outpacing all others.
The “Krewe of Rex” is officially named the “School of Design”, but most commonly goes by the name, “the Rex Organization”, or to many, simply, “Rex” (which also means “king” - for which they are most known).
The first Rex parade was held in 1872 and coincided with a visit from the Grand Duke Alexis. While the stated purpose of that first Rex parade was to honor, and be reviewed by the Grand Duke, Rex historian Dr. Stephen Hales tells us the organizers also hoped to stage an exciting daytime parade that would replace the raucous street celebrations that dominated Mardi Gras day at that time. They hoped the organized spectacle would attract visitors to New Orleans, and help promote local businesses and cultural ties.
More than a century later, it’s clear that, whether it was that early Rex parade or the efforts of many, the wish for a widely popular New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration has certainly come true. But the Rex Organization has influenced Mardi Gras and the New Orleans community in numerous other ways as well.
The Rex origination is credited with giving the Mardi Gras tradition its three traditional colors (purple, green, and gold), and it’s theme song, “If Ever I Cease To Love”. The motto of the Rex Organization is, “Pro Bono Publico” (for the public good), and that is also the name given to the branch of their organization charged with continuing the group’s long history of benevolent and charitable giving and service to the community.
After Katrina, the Rex Organization launched Operation Pro Bono Publico, which included: Project Gold providing 50K to help police officers and other first-responders who lost homes in the floods; Project Green mobilizing more than 1,000 volunteers to clean up after Mardi Gras; and Project Purple focusing on schools and provided a mix of financial and volunteer support.
But Rex's support has continued long after Hurricane Katrina. In January of 2014 the Rex Organization and the Pro Bono Publico Foundation (the krewe's ongoing charitable organization, formed to support local educational reform initiatives and other worthy causes) awarded 750K (including 50K for Teach For America) to 24 schools and charter management organizations. Dr. Hales tells us the foundation has award more than “$3 million since it was organized a year post Katrina.”
Rex (King of Carnival)
Because service to the community is so important to the Krewe of Rex, each year, when choosing Rex- the King of Carnival, the School of Design leadership selects a krewe member who is both active in the life of the krewe (the Rex Organization), and also has a proven record of community engagement. While Rex’s reign technically runs through Mardi Gras and until the new “Rex” (King of Carnival) is crowned the following year, he has no other “major” responsibilities outside of Mardi Gras.
According to Rex historian, Dr. Stephen Hales, “Rex’s identity is revealed to the membership in a meeting on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, with a public announcement to follow. On the Monday before Mardi Gras (commonly referred to as “Lundi Gras”), Rex arrives by Coast Guard Cutter at the foot of Poydras Street.
Given that most of his duties are crammed into one day, Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday) is very busy for Rex. He arrives early at the krewe/float “den" (the place where the floats are built, stored, and maintained, and the krewe costumes and offices are located). On Fat Tuesday Rex's first order of business is to dress like a king. Once he slips into costume and dons his crown, Rex greets other costumed Rex members and dignitaries and participates in the flag-raising ceremonies. He then climbs aboard his royal float and leads the parade procession. During the parade Rex pauses to toast the Mayor of New Orleans and other officials at city Hall, and then stops again at the official Reviewing Stand to offer a toast to the Queen of Carnival and their royal court.
Later that night the King and Queen of Carnival will preside over the Rex ball. The royal couple will also visit the Comus ball and take part in the traditional “Meeting of the Courts”, the last public act of Carnival. Afterwards Rex and others sit down to a supper presented by the Comus Queen and the Queen of Carnival.
Once the reigning Mardi Gras king steps down he is invited to attend a transitional dinner of the Carnival Kings’ Club, a group of past Kings of Carnival. Frequently past “Rexes” have hosted fundraising benefits for Pro Bono Publico.
Krewe Structure (Rex, captains, lieutenants, riders, etc.)
While the Rex Organization elects Rex (the “King of Carnival"), the Rex Organization (the School of Design) itself is led by a captain who reports to a board with an 8-10 member executive committee made up of the living past captains of The School of Design. Forty to fifty lieutenants aid the krewe captain in all phases of year-round Rex operations and organization, including the group’s finances, and planning for the Rex Parade, balls, and other activities. During the Mardi Gras day Rex Parade these lieutenants can be seen riding horseback in purple, green and gold velvet costumes.
Krewe of Rex Parade & Rex’s Duties”- When & Where, etc.
The 2014 parade was the 131st in the krewe’s 141-year history. Over the years a few parades have been canceled due to local political strife, wars, and a police strike.
The parade typically begins at the intersection of South Claiborne Ave. and Napoleon Ave., and then proceeds down Napoleon to St. Charles. The parade then turns onto St. Charles headed towards Lee Circle. After going around Lee Circle it continues to Canal Street, where it heads south past Magazine Street and ends at the intersection of Canal Street and St. Peters.
As one of the guiding forces in the early days of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the krewe from which the “King of Carnival” is chosen, and the hosts of one of the largest and most exciting NOLA Mardi Gras parades, the Rex Organization’s (The School of Design's) influence on Mardi Gras in New Orleans is undeniable. Through their commitment to their community, Rex and his fellow krewe members have proven themselves to be a force for good in the community, and a shining example of the many ways in which Mardi Gras is more than just an excuse to have a good time.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
1. Personal Interviews With Dr. Stephen Hales & Rex Organization: March 2014
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