- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Theodore Emile “Bo” Dollis, the longtime Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, died Tuesday at his home in New Orleans.

His death was announced by the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame in a message on its Facebook page. He was 71.

“It is with profound sadness that I must inform you of our newest ancestor. Big Chief Theodore “Bo” Dollis passed this morning,” reads a message posted to the Hall of Fame’s Facebook page. “His wife, Big Queen Laurita Dollis, has requested prayers for the family and his soul at this time. Please honor her request and refrain from calls and text messages as she prepares for his public life celebration.”

Dollis first masked with the Golden Arrows Mardi Gras Indians as a young teen despite reluctance from his family because of the Indian groups’ reputations for violence. Soon after, he joined the Wild Magnolias as Flag Boy and, by 1964, had risen to Big Chief. NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports (http://bit.ly/1BB8hyX ) Dollis was part of a new generation that rejected violence, focusing instead on costuming.

Dollis was among the first to bring the culture and sound of the Indian culture to national prominence, recording the first commercial album of Mardi Gras Indian music, including the single “Handa Wanda,” in 1970. That same year, he and Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians appeared at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

In 1974, along with his wife Laurita Dollis, keyboardist Willie Tee, guitarist and singer Snooks Eaglin, percussionist Uganda Roberts and saxophonist Earl Turbinton, Dollis recorded “The Wild Magnolias,” melding Indian chants with sizzling funk. The Wild Magnolias also recorded “They Call Us Wild” in 1975 and over the years, the group would perform around the world.

Quint Davis, producer of the Jazz Fest, was instrumental in assembling the Wild Magnolias band to record.

“He was the modern musical face of the Mardi Gras Indian culture that broke through to the outside world,” Davis told NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. His voice “came out of his personality. Bo wasn’t an angry Indian. He was a joyous Indian. Bo had this joy about the whole culture. He had this joy about the fact that he was leading it, and he could sing it. That infused what he was singing.”

Davis also announced Tuesday that Dollis is the subject of the festival’s official 2015 poster.

In recent years, troubled by failing health, Dollis stepped down to the role of council chief of the Wild Magnolias. His son Gerard “Bo Jr.” Dollis took the role of Big Chief and leader of the performing Wild Magnolias.

In 2011, Bo Dollis received the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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