All across the city today, Mardi Gras Indians and their loved ones are furiously sewing beads, feathers and other art pieces to get their suits ready by the break of dawn tomorrow Mardi Gras morning. Some are sewing for days and nights now without sleep in order to make it in time for Mardi Gras morning. There is one Indian, however, who is not in that stressed, hurried number. Stafford Agee, renowned saxophonist for Rebirth Brass Band and Spy Boy for the Black Feather Tribe, has had his suit ready for over a month - finished on January 27 to be exact. The unveiling of the annual, year-long-in-the-making suit is the most pivotal moment of the Indian ritual and its design and colors are a heavily guarded secret, traditionally embargoed from the public until their unveiling on Mardi Gras morning. Stafford says none of the Indians know what colors the others will be wearing. “Everyone works in secret on their own.” But tomorrow — Mardi Gras morning — at 7am, Big Red will release exclusive video on the Blog of New Orleans of my January interview with Stafford showing him making his 2011 suit.
“I’m been working on this suit since March of last year. I’m ahead of the game... Old School!” laughed Stafford during his January interview. In addition to playing trombone for Rebirth Brass Band, Stafford also serves as an assistant band director for O.P. Walker High School. Thus, “I gotta go be ready ahead of time cause I still gotta work. Mardi Gras shows pick up and I gotta go do shows... I’m the busiest man masking.”
Stafford’s position in the Mardi Gras Indian pantheon is that of ‘Spy Boy’ which also mandates that he be the first one ready. Spy boy serves as the eyes for the tribe, “searching for the other indians, pass signals back to my chief through flag boys, letting ‘em know what tribes they have going.”
A protege of Chief of Chiefs, the late Big Chief Tootie Montana, Stafford began masking with the Yellow Pocahontas but broke off into another tribe in 2001. “When (Tuttie) got older, he stopped doing a lot of walking Uptown. And just going a coupla blocks wasn’t working for me.” Stafford’s tribe the ‘Black Feather’, which derives from the Yellow Pocahontas, currently has about 22 Indians who travel all over Downtown and Uptown New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day.
Growing up in 8th Ward, Stafford was a member of the renown Tambourine and Fan Club, playing in their Bucket Men Brass Band and later in the Olympia Jr. Brass Band before beginning his 20+ years and counting reign in Rebirth Brass Band back in 1988. It was then that Stafford began sewing for his new bandmates, Kenny Terry (former Wild Man Yellow Pocahontas and now trumpeter for Treme Brass Band) and trombonist Glen Andrews. “After helping them I figured I could sit down and make my own suit. So I just started on my own next year.
This year’s masking ritual hold an even more special significance for Stafford because he wasn’t able to mask last year. “I sat at home and cried cause I didn’t get out there.” But he immediately puts any and all skeptics on notice: “This is not a two year suit — its a one year suit, not flip flop from 2 years ago! A brand new suit.” The busiest man masking has also made a suit for his three year old little boy Mahki Earnest Agee who’ll also be wearing all white, as is the tradition for children in their first year masking.
The Spy Boy for the Black Feather will begin to debut his suit at 5am tomorrow morning at his childhood home on Music and Villere before heading over to his Chief’s Lionell Delpit at Frenchman and Villere around 6am. And then the tribe will take off through the 8th, 7th, 6th Wards and on up to Uptown to find other Indians. So... if your Fat Tuesday festivity schedule doesn’t permit you to catch up with Stafford and the Black Feather Tribe in person, check back here at 7am Mardi Gras Morning on Blog of New Orleans to see Big Red’s video of the making of the Spy Boy suit for the Black Feather Tribe.
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Thanks for pointing out the error.
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