Saturday’s Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade in downtown Jackson will be a reunion of sorts for two of the guiding forces who marched in the first parade 36 years ago. Founder Malcolm White and Jill Conner Browne, author of the best-selling Sweet Potato Queens books and “boss queen” of a legion of “wannabe” queens, will be in the parade together with all their followers for the first time since 2010.
The parade had grown so large by 2010 that the two split their events. Browne and her crew created a new event, the Zippity Doo Dah Weekend, in Fondren on the weekend after the annual St. Paddy’s Parade. It included a nighttime parade with all of the wannabes.
For 2019, Browne and White are back together for a blockbuster weekend packed with events.
“We’ve got the children’s parade, the pet parade, the children’s festival, the 5K run, and the Hal’s Parade — and then the after-party all down here on the street. All of that will go on as always,” said White, who owns Hal & Mal’s. “We’re now on the fourth Saturday rather than the third in order to accommodate more marching bands and the return of the Sweet Potato Queens.”
The queens and their wannabes are once again headquartered at the Hilton on County Line Road in Jackson, but they’re also spending time at New Stage Theatre, where the musical about how the queens came to be has been held-over.
“We needed a place to parade because Fondren is under construction,” Conner said, referring to an ongoing infrastructure-improvement project. “So it’s the perfect timing, especially with the musical here. The musical is about Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade and how we came to be in that. So it really is a divine cosmic convergence of things.”
White and Browne settled on having the event on the fourth Saturday of the month so as not to conflict with spring break schedules and perhaps attract more college, high-school, and middle-school bands. At least five will be marching in Saturday’s parade.
The parade and the queens’ many events, including a raffle for a new car donated by Patty Peck Honda and an auction of one of Browne’s crowns, all benefit the children’s hospital at University of Mississippi Medical Center, which is in the middle of a major expansion project. Browne and many of her wannabes will walk the parade route just before the parade begins to collect donations for the hospital.
“We’ll do the ‘city sweep’ first, so I will be on foot for the first time ever in 36 years in the parade, and then go through and get on the float and ride through,” she says.
“Everything that we do this whole weekend is for Children’s of Mississippi,” Browne says. “It’s the only hospital in the state where any child can be treated, regardless of ability to pay, and we’re building that brand-new $200 million facility right now. If you haven’t driven down Woodrow Wilson lately, that’s what’s happening there.”
White says it all has a $10 million economic impact on the local economy, and nice weather could push it past that.
“The response so far, coupled with what Jill is doing with the play and the return of the queens and the marching bands — it’s all shaping up to be a really iconic year, and we’re excited.”