The Gonzales family has overseen the parade bands for Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans for the last four years, all while living in Franklin. But their history with Mardis Gras goes back much further than that.
Brothers Michael and Matthew Gonzales were raised in New Orleans with a front row seat to one of the biggest parade celebrations in the country and the Mardi Gras Parade Bands was founded by their grandfather, Professor Harry Mendelson Sr. Mendelson was a conductor and composer, who taught at St. Xavier and helped bring the music to several parades. He was first recruited by one of the largest Krewes – Krewe of Endymion which held its first parade in 1967.
Over the years, Mendelson recruited bands for a large majority of Krewes during Mardi Gras. After his death, his daughter, Musette carried on the tradition for 40 years. During her time as band recruiter, Musette organized bands for 29 Mardis Gras parades.
“We had been helping organize the parades during college but when our mother decided to retire, the four of us came together and said we’d give it a try,” said Michael Gonzales.
The first documented Mardi Gras celebration took place in New Orleans back in 1837 but this year, Krewe of Iris, the oldest and largest female Krewe will celebrate their 100th anniversary.
Michael jokes, “They are in the process of writing a book about Krewe of Iris regarding their 100 years at Mardi Gras, someone asked who could give them information and the answer is a resounding – Musette.”
Looking back over the years, the Gonzales brothers share the first time they attended the parade at the ages of 12 and 10. They watched the parade with their aunt and uncle as their sister was a maid on the Endymion parade, the largest parade in Mardi Gras.
Today, the Gonzales family views the parade in a different capacity. The entire family, including Michael’s wife Christa and Matthew’s wife Megan, work hard to make the parade the success. Beginning long before parade day, they secure the bands, help the bands book accommodations, and come parade day, they are organizing the line-up.
At this year’s Mardis Gras, there will be college, high school and middle school bands from across the nation performing, including two from Middle Tennessee – Hunters Lane and Maplewood High School. Hunters Lane will lead the parade for the Krewe of Iris as part of the 100-year celebration and participate in Orpheus (Harry Connick Jr.’s Krewe) and the Mardi Gras Day parade for Krewe of Rex.
With years of on-the-job training, the Gonzales family told us there is one thing that is completely unpredictable every year – the weather.
But they’ve only had one parade that wasn’t able to continue on its scheduled day.
“It the greatest free show on Earth,” said Michael Gonzales, “We tell people all the time to bring your families, Mardi Gras can be very family friendly and you’ll never see another parade like these.”
When asked if the Gonzales family would consider bringing a Mardi Gras parade to Franklin, they collectively said “We’d love to have a Mardi Gras parade here one day.”
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