Dance partners of Girls in the Mural

Dance partners of Girls in the Mural

by Maurice Singleton

The three girls featured in the mural on the side of the 100 Men Hall represent a piece of history of the iconic Chitlin’ Circuit venue and gathering place for the African American community in Bay St. Louis during the 1940s through the 1970s.

The three girls are Deborah (Ishem) Alexander, Goldie (Nichols) Fairconnetue, and Darlene (Labat) Lee. They actually had male dance partners, as they paid tribute to that particular year’s local king and queen of Mardi Gras. Their partners were Walden Curry, Myron Labat and Edward Ishem, respectively.

Edward Ishem (not seen), Walden Curry, Deborah Ishem,
Myron Labat, Goldie Fairconnetue, and Darlene Labat. 

“I think Deborah suggested that we do it,” Curry recalled how the dance group first began. “They knew who the best dancers were, and they wanted us all in it because of the relationships between our mamas.

“It was my release because verbally and physically, I closed up, but when the music came on, that was my release,” Curry recalled. “The more clapping I heard, the more I’d give. That was something I did well.

“I was told by my mama that I could dance. When the music started, I wasn’t counting,” said Curry. “I would get lost in the music. I danced with my mama. I was comfortable. The bigger the crowed, the better I performed.”

For Curry and Edward Ishem, it was at least their second performance. They had danced the prior year, along with Deborah and Goldie. Siblings Myron and Darlene joined them in the second year.

Although Myron’s family had been involved in Mardi Gras for as far back as he could remember, the dancing part didn’t come as easily for him as it did for Curry.

“I was pretty bashful at first,” Labat recalled. “We practiced twice a week on Deborah’s front porch for about five weeks before the event.

“The more we practiced, the better we got,” said Labat. “After a couple of weeks, I was more comfortable. In fact, I was pretty much eager to show what we could do.”

Unlike Curry and Labat, Edward, doesn’t remember the dance group performances as clearly. He does, however, remember a Tom Thumb wedding performance in which he was the groom and Janet Payne was the bride. That wedding appeared to have taken place either a year or two before the dance skits.

“I don’t remember too much about the dancing,” said Ishem, “but I do remember me and Janet Payne getting married in a Tom Thumb Wedding. And I remember winning three dress shirts and a gold watch.”

When asked about the Tom Thumb Wedding, Payne immediately confirmed that she and Ishem participated in the event as bride and groom. She and her sister Barbara also recalled a photo in a family album that kind of kept the memory fresh in family discussions over the years.

Which organization put on the Tom Thumb Wedding is not clear, but Payne believes it was the same organization that spearheaded the “Man-less Wedding,” which was another special event that was held at the 100 Men Hall.

Manless Wedding

“If I had to guess, I think we were anywhere from six to ten years old,” said Payne.

The dance performances, as far as the participants can recall, happened when they were ten to twelve years of age.

During their first performance, the guys wore bright, shiny, Kelly green-colored uniforms with capes lined in bright shiny gold cloth. Curry’s mother had his costume converted to an Indian costume the following year for the Mardi Gras parade.

The second year, the three boys wore black slacks with white shirts and black vests as they joined the three girls in a dance to the song Shotgun by Junior Walker and the All Stars.

For all the participants, that event was another step on a continuum of their involvement in Mardi Gras, as well as being involved in their community.

“Our family had been a big part of Mardi Gras since I was six,” Labat recalled. “Edward and I always wanted to be Indians because that was what the big boys did.”

Labat recalled watching his cousin Calvin Smith and his friends, Walter Thomas Benoit and Martin Moseley, putting the beads and the finishing touches on their Indian costumes.

“The crowns took a long time to put together,” said Labat. “Those guys took a lot of pride in that. It was like an unwritten competition to see who could come up with the most elaborate costume, to see who could get the most attention.”

Curry continues to be a big fan of Mardi Gras. He spent thirty years as a teacher and coach in New Orleans, while enjoying the Marid Gras season in mask, often dressed out in full Indian costume.

Walden Curry - Mardi Gras

He retired in 2005 and moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he taught school and coached track for another thirteen years.

Curry is a track All American, an NAIA high jump champion and a member of the Delta State University Sports Hall of Fame. He won four indoor and four outdoor championships in his career. He has a personal best jump of 7’ 3 ¾”. He participated in the Olympic Trials at the age of 18 in 1971.

Labat is also a retired educator and coach, spending seventeen years as a teacher and department lead in the social studies department at St. Stanislaus, followed by fourteen years as an administrator in the Bay-Waveland School District.

Labat coached the St. Stanislaus tennis team to 4A State Championships in 1998 and 1999.

He is also a founding member of the Bay Rollers Bicycle Club, which was founded in 2014. The group currently has twenty-eight members who meet two or three times a week for group rides. They raise money to feed the area’s food-insecure. They also pay dues which go toward purchasing bikes which are given out during the Christmas season. To date, Bay Rollers have given away more than 700 bicycles.

Myron Labat and Bay Rollers Bicycle Club

“I was a part of the community,” Edward recalled the impact of his early involvement in Mardi Gras. He said that his involvement helped lead him to becoming a barber.

Edward has lived in Nairobi, Kenya and Cairo, Egypt. He currently lives in Belize, where he is building his own home.

Edward Ishem outside 100 Men Hall


Reading next

Story State 2023
CENTENNIAL - Rise of the DJ/Disco Weekend

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.