Bo Dollis, Mardi Gras Indians Big Chief, Dies at 71

Prominent frontman of NOLA’s Wild Magnolias

Bo Dollis
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Bo Dollis, the Big Chief of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians troupe the Wild Magnolias, died Jan. 20 at his home in that city. He was 71. A cause was not reported but Dollis’ death was confirmed by the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, according to several published obituaries.

Born Theodore Emile Dollis, on Jan. 14, 1944, the colorfully festooned tribe leader was one of the most prominent figures among New Orleans’ Indian groups. He held the position as the Wild Magnolias’ Big Chief beginning in 1964, masking annually until ill health forced him to relinquish the reins to his son, Gerard (aka Bo Dollis Jr.) a few years ago.

Bo Dollis came up singing in the church but was drawn at a young age to the city’s Indian culture, first joining the Golden Arrows Mardi Gras Indians and then the White Eagles while still in his teens. He joined the Wild Magnolias as flag boy and by 1964 had risen to the leadership position.

The Wild Magnolias, under Dollis’ leadership, are credited with cutting the first commercial recording of Mardi Gras Indian music, the single “Handa Wanda,” in 1970. Their debut album, the self-titled Wild Magnolias, appeared on the Barclay label in 1974. The followup, They Call Us Wild, was recorded the following year but was not released at the time in the U.S. due to contractual reasons.

The Wild Magnolias toured extensively around the world, and appeared at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival numerous times. Dollis’ face will adorn the festival’s 2015 poster.

In 2011, Dollis received the NEA’s National Heritage Fellowship.