This is New Orleans' premier event honoring the musical and theatrical talent of a city world renowned for its outstanding performing arts. A combination of the "Grammys" and the "Tonys" in style, 45+ awards are presented to local talent by national and regional celebrities for accomplishments in both music and theater. Harry Shearer, John Goodman, Vance and Ellen DeGeneres have served as Master of Ceremonies and presenters have included: Taylor Hackford, Harry Anderson, Eric Roberts, Lily Tartikoff, Jonathan Frakes, Adrienne Barbeau, Paul Shaffer, Rhonda Shear, Arthel Neville, Rita Coolidge, Jay Thomas, Justin Wilson, Jimmy Buffet, Quint Davis, and Isaac Tigrett.
The first Big Easy Entertainment Awards was held in the Blue Room of the Fairmont Hotel in 1988, produced by Margo DuBos, Publisher of Gambit Weekly. The event was small in scope, with attendance limited to 400. The need for an awards show to pay tribute to the city's performing talent was obvious from the overwhelming positive response from the entertainment community. After one more year in the Blue Room (1989), the show moved to larger venues.
The demand for more tickets and more awards resulted in the show moving to New Orleans' Municipal Auditorium in 1991. When that venue was leased as a temporary casino site in 1994, the event returned to the Fairmont Hotel but this time to the Imperial Ballroom. In 1995 the event expanded to the opulent Orpheum Theatre, where up to 1800 people attended the awards ceremonies followed by a Celebration Bash supper dance for a thousand people in the Fairmont's Imperial Ballroom. In 1998, the event moved to the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, and the 13th event in 2000 moved to one of the largest ballrooms in the city at The Hilton Hotel, where the SRO show continued until 2005 when the event returned to the Municipal Auditorium.
Event sponsors include: Gambit Weekly, Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, Coleman E. Adler & Sons jewelers, John Jay, Mardi Gras Productions, and Abita Beer. Community radio stations WWNO 89.9 fm and WWOZ 90.7 fm also supports the event.
The show's high quality production standards have earned acclaim and loyalty from the entertainment community. George Porter, Jr (2005), The Pfister sisters (2004), Kidd Jordan (2002), Frankie Ford (2001),Wanda Rouzan (2000), Deacon John (1999), The Neville Brothers (1998), Cosimo Matassa (1997), Pete Fountain (1996), Harold Batiste (1995), Quint Davis (1994), Irma Thomas (1992) and Quincy Jones (1991) have served as Honorary Chairpersons.
Gambit Publisher Margo DuBos continues as Executive Producer, Gloria Powers is Executive Director.
A separate awards event for classical music, opera and dance was begun in 1994. The Tribute to the Classical Arts luncheon February 2, 2007 at the Hotel Monteleone is sponsored by Gambit Weekly, WWNO fm, Hall Piano Company, Uptown Costume & Dancewear, and Coleman E. Adler & Sons jewelers.
The awards events are produced annually to benefit the Foundation for Entertainment Development and Education, Inc.