A Carnival Couple That Can’t Be Stopped
For almost 50 years, I’ve celebrated Carnival. My early years were spent enduring Wisconsin’s frigid Februarys, but coming to New Orleans at age 19, I embraced the season with enthusiasm, joy and more than my share of ribaldry.
My very first parade, as a wisp of a thing, was spent on the shoulders of the tallest man I could find. After the parade, my friends told me the shoulders belonged to Jerry Jeff Walker, the singer/ songwriter who wrote “Mr. Bojangles”.
But by far the most memorable Carnival season was in 2006 held in the aftermath of Katrina. I was living in Missouri at the time, but nothing could keep me from heading south to be a part of my city’s recovery. I was so proud of my city as the floats with water lines passed by and bands put together with borrowed uniforms gleefully kept the tradition alive. Numbers were certainly down, but the Carnival spirit was strong, real and alive that year.
This year will be another different kind of Carnival and it too will go down in history. It will be joyous and strong and most likely full of its own kind of ribaldry.
On Wednesday Jan 6, Twelfth Night will kick off the season. And with it will come the beginning of king cake season.
Will Samuels, king cake purveyor and owner of King Cake Hub will celebrate “Quarnival” with the grand opening of his one-stop-shop for king cakes. Samuels will be hosting a socially distanced, masks-required party at his new location at 600 N. Broad Street, where Professor Carl Nivale and Grand Marshal Marty Graw will be cutting the first piece. These two iconic characters have been a part of our Carnival season for more than 25 years.
“The Professor represents Carnival history and Grand Marshal represents carnival revelry and artistry,” says Edward R. Cox, who portrays the character Grand Marshal Marty Graw.
The pair recently became culture bearers and were awarded a key to the city in 2019. They’ve called several parades at Gallier Hall.
“For a New Orleanian, that’s almost like appearing on Broadway,” says Vatican Lokey, who plays the role of the Professor.
The pair, both members of Actors’ Equity Association, see these characters as public servants.
“We might get a small stipend that covers our expenses, but we do it for our love of the city and for our love of Carnival,” says Cox.
Professor Carl Nivale made his first appearance alongside WWL legend, Frank Davis.
“It was supposed to be a one-off character but I kept being asked back and the Professor just blossomed,” says Lokey.
The duo also put together “The Professor Carl Nivale Show, which debuted last year and was presented by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Economy and NOLA Voice Theatre.
“It was very well received, and we plan to present it again in the future for schools, gatherings and conventions,” says Cox.
A married couple, Cox and Lokey are celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary this year. Both perform as other seasonal characters. This year, you might have seen them as Sprinkles and Tinsel, Santa’s craziest elves, in a commercial for the Downtown Development District of New Orleans.
Lokey’s also been seen as wild and wacky Wanda the Witch at Halloween and Cox spent years as the Mad Hatter at Walt Disney World. The couple have many acting awards and mainstage and film credits but it is clear that Professor Carl Nivale and Grand Marshal Marty Graw are near and dear to their hearts.
“I love seeing the joy in people’s faces when they see us,” says Lokey. “Their faces just light up. I just want everyone to realize that things will be different this year, but Carnival is not canceled. This year’s Carnival will live in our memories and new traditions will be born this season.”
“We will find a new Carnival spirit fueled by our ingenuity and creativity, added Cox. “We are not going to be stopped. Here it is. It’s Carnival time.”