Woman center of neighborhood celebration

Queen Dolly will reign again this year over “The Mardi Gras” — the masked revelers whose self-made and self-adorned costumes draw fans and tourists to the Fat Tuesday celebration that began decades ago in the McComb neighborhood.

Clark Field is the focal point in the north Lafayette neighborhood for the annual Mardi Gras Show, a day filled with sounds of R&B, zydeco, reggae and Latino music.

But the highlight of the event, which begins at 10 a.m., is the evening judging of the masked and costumed revelers known as “the Mardi Gras.”

Behind it all is Queen Dolly.

Meet Dolly Broussard, 62, who has helped to keep the neighborhood celebration going for 22 years.

Broussard is responsible for giving the masked revelers an opportunity to continue showcasing their artistic designs and has worked to keep the costume competition alive.

“She was the most significant individual to start the cultural preservation for the Mardi Gras culture in Lafayette,” said John Freeman, head of the Southern Development Foundation, which sponsors the Tuesday Mardi Gras Show at Clark Field.

Before moving to Clark Field, the neighborhood celebration was held at the corner of 12th and South Magnolia streets.

Back in those days, Queen Dolly was known as Lady D, a local DJ who heeded a call from the late John Lewis and volunteered to play music for his neighborhood Mardi Gras event.

Broussard said Lewis organized the McComb Mardi Gras because many of the parish’s black residents did not feel welcome at the Lafayette celebrations, particularly the costume judging competition.

“He took it to the ’hood,” Broussard said.

When Lewis was ready to retire from the event, Broussard took over organizing the costume contest.

Lewis crowned Broussard as “queen,” and from that day forth she was Queen Dolly — as much a celebrity and fan favorite as “the Mardi Gras,” who show up in their masked costumes, which may cost up to $700 each to make.

“I didn’t have a clue it would get this big,” Broussard said of the neighborhood event, which has expanded under Freeman to incorporate live performers.

Broussard also did not realize how popular she would become and that fans would wait in anticipation each year to see her costume.

She said sometimes some of the masked revelers have helped make her costume as well as their own, and sometimes she makes her own.

She credits her son, Michael, for teaching her how to design outfits.

“He was masking before I even thought of taking over the show,” she said.

Freeman said Broussard’s costumers are always unique, beginning with the first golden one she wore in a style described as Afrocentric.

“She’s not your traditional queen,” he said.

It’s a compliment Broussard welcomes.

She smiles, and her eyes twinkle, as she notes that despite rain showers and storms, fans still show up.

And she can’t wait to honor their request: “Bring out the queen!”

Freeman said he never knows how many revelers will show up for the costume contest, but he said there is always an enthusiastic group.

“They keep up the tradition — they mask, their children mask,” Broussard said. “Somebody will keep it going.”

As for Queen Dolly, she’ll keep reigning over the festivities.

“This is what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “This is who I am.”