Joseph Pierre “Big Chief Monk” Boudreaux is the leader of the Golden Eagles, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe in New Orleans, Louisiana. Boudreaux is a vital figure who has steadfastly distinguished himself as a gifted folk artist, cultural icon, and dynamic performing musician through his unwavering dedication to this singular African-American tradition.
The New Orleans Black Indians emerged in the late 19th century, appearing as various tribes in stunning costumes, or “suits,” that combine the visual aesthetics of 19th century American Plains Indians and Afro-Caribbean Carnival revelers. Completely handmade, these suits include brightly colored feathers, intricate beadwork, rhinestones, sequins, satin, and ruffles.
Music and movement are as central to the tradition as its costuming, or “masking.” Boudreaux began masking at the age of seven and later with the White Eagles tribe at the age of 12. He drew inspiration from his father Raymond, who had been a member of the Wild Squatoulas. Boudreaux later became the Big Chief of the Golden Eagles, and continues to lead this family-based tribe to this day.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Boudreaux and several other Mardi Gras Indians became nationally-known recording artists by blending their folk traditions with R&B and funk styles. The annual performance by Big Chief Monk and the Golden Eagles at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival dates back to the festival’s inception in 1970. Boudreaux has since been trusted to manage the festival’s “Jazz and Heritage” stage, where other New Orleans tradition-bearers perform as well.
Boudreaux’s musical career has spanned nearly a half-century. He has performed internationally and in some of the world’s finest concert halls, including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Boudreaux has recorded severally critically acclaimed albums and has appeared as a guest musician on numerous others.
He portrayed himself in HBO’s Treme and was highlighted in the award-winning documentary “Bury the Hatchet.” He also stars in the of the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, which has drawn attention to the wetlands and coastal erosion of Louisiana as a major environmental issue. In 2016, Boudreaux was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.