Southern Decadence in New Orleans
Howard Philips Smith
Founded in the summer of 1972 by a few friends as a modest celebration, the Southern Decadence festival has since grown into one of New Orleans’s largest annual tourist events.
The multiday extravaganza features street parties, drag contests, dancing, drinking, and bead tosses, culminating with a boisterous parade through the French Quarter. With over 200,000 participants―predominantly LGBT+―these unbridled, pre–Labor Day festivities now generate millions of dollars in revenue.
Howard Philips Smith and Frank Perez’s Southern Decadence in New Orleans brings together an astounding array of materials to provide the first comprehensive, historical look at Southern Decadence. In an engaging account spanning five decades, the authors combine a trove of rare memorabilia from the event’s founders, early photographs and film stills, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with longtime participants, a list of all the parades and grand marshals, as well as reproductions of early Southern Decadence invitations. Throughout, the authors explore the pivotal moments and public perceptions related to the festival―including the myths and conjecture that often inaccurately characterized it―and provide an in-depth narrative detailing how a small party in the Faubourg Tremé grew into a worldwide destination predominantly for gay men.
Lauded by city leaders as the second-most profitable festival in New Orleans (outshone only by Mardi Gras), Southern Decadence emanates an air of frivolity that masks its enormous impact on the culture and economy of the Crescent City. But with such growth comes the challenge of maintaining the original spirit of camaraderie while managing expanding administrative and logistical responsibilities. Southern Decadence in New Orleans serves as a historical record that helps ensure the future of the celebration remains forever linked to the joyous impulse of its humble beginnings.