Big Chief Theodore Emile ‘Bo’ Dollis
The New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic & Assistance Foundation (NOMC&AF) family mourns the loss of our beloved Big Chief, the NOMC’s 2013 Honorary Donor Appeal Chair, who lived just two blocks from our NOMAF office. Bo was a dedicated New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic patient since our founding in 1998, and it was our privilege to care for him in the aftermath of his strokes and through his struggles with diabetes. In his honor, we have established the NOMAF Bo Dollis Donor Advised Fund to sustain the wellbeing of those NOMC patients who are masking Mardi Gras Indians.
Bo served as a role model on many levels. From his remarkable musical career to his valiant final years as he struggled back to the stage from several strokes, never let his fans down even though he underwent dialysis several times and week, and even performed when he had pneumonia, leaving the stage to be admitted to the hospital in critical condition. Though Bo had no formal musical training, his distinctive rough and streetwise voice evoked barroom jam sessions as he lead hundreds of second-lining dancers through the streets at Carnival time for generations and entertained audiences the world over. In 2011, Dollis earned the coveted National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.
His development as one of the classic New Orleans recording icons began as a junior in high school, when Bo secretly started attending Sunday night Indian practice in a friend’s back yard. Even though he was fascinated by the Afro-Caribbean Mardi Gras Indian traditions, he knew his parents would never approve his participation in this unique underground back street culture; so he made first suit in secret. In 1957 Bo Dollis masked with The Golden Arrows and was proudly a Mardi Gras Indian from then on, masking for five decades, until his death in 2015.
As a young man, he rapidly rose to the role as a cultural leader. By 1964, Bo Dollis had become the Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias, a central city gang that had been around since the 1950s. It was Bo’s voice that would soon bring the Wild Magnolias from those back streets to international fame. In 1970, the Wild Magnolias cut a single, “Handa Wanda” featuring beer bottles, cans, tambourines and snares, backed by The New Orleans Project, including pianist Willie Tee and guitarist Snooks Eaglin. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the Wild Magnolias performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC. In 1992, the Magnolias toured Europe as part of Willy DeVille’s “New Orleans Revue” (with Dr John, Johnny Adams, and Zachary Richard). Through it all, Bo empowered and mentored his tribe to conduct themselves with pride and dignity. With our donor advised fund in his memory, NOMC&AF will keep his legacy alive.
Advisory Council of NOMAF’s Big Chief Bo Dollis Donor Advised Fund
LaToya Cantrell, Councilmember District “B”
Big Chief Tyrone Casby of the Mohawk Hunters
Big Queen Laurita Dollis of the Wild Magnolias and President of the Queens’ Council
Big Chief Otto Dejean of the Hard Head Hunters