The Prince of Wales Social Aid and Pleasure Club was formed in 1928 in the 12th Ward—the New Orleans neighborhood bounded by Tchoupitoulas and Magazine Streets to the north and south, and Louisiana and Napoleon Avenues on the east and west.
The early club members worked on the riverfront as stevedores and railroad men for the sprawling port. Though it began with the purpose of mutual aid, Prince of Wales has evolved into a club whose main focus is their annual second line.
Prince of Wales parades every year, typically in September or October. Their route takes them through their own neighborhood, across St. Charles Avenue to Central City, and then back home to the Rock Bottom Lounge. They dance and strut through the streets, stopping at homes and barrooms along the way, covering about five miles in four hours.
PoW’s celebratory processional crosses from the mixed working-class neighborhood between Magazine Street and the river to the culturally rich but economically depressed Central City by way of stately Saint Charles Avenue and the mansions of the Garden District. This active, intertwining Crescent City admixture of race and class is a hallmark of many New Orleans public celebrations—such as Mardi Gras and the love of the Saints football team—and pulls people of all stripes together in the streets.
Prince of Wales picks their suit colors almost a year before the parade; members make suggestions on which the whole club votes. The colors for 2009 were peach and olive green, chosen to complement each other.
Once the colors are picked, the suits, hats, shoes, streamers and fans have to be coordinated. For the 2009 parade, Kevin and Deborah Matthews of Sunday Morning Fashions made the suits. Monk Boudreaux did the men’s fans, and Wardell did the women’s. The hats came from Meyer the Hatter, on St. Charles Avenue.
There are two stories that have been passed down through the years on the origins of the club's name. The first is that the early club members—railroad men and dock workers—all drank Justerini & Brooks scotch. On every bottle of J&B, the Prince of Wales is honored at the bottom of the label, and some current members believe they may have taken their inspiration from that.
The other theory comes from a visit the Prince of Wales made to New Orleans in the late 1920s. An ardent jazz fan and a sharp dresser, the Prince made a lasting impression on the city and on club members. Naming the club after the Prince of Wales aligned the men with an image of style and sophistication. And, as Princes, they too became royalty. This story is similar to one told by Rex—the traditional white Carnival krewe whose rotating high-society monarch is referred to as the “King of Carnival”—of the continuing traditions linked to the visit of the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia to the city in 1872.
The music, the engine of the whole parade, is always provided by a local brass band. This year, it was the Stooges Brass Band, stepping in for Prince of Wales' usual band, the Hot 8. The band walks behind the club members, pushing them forward and providing the beat for their steps. On either side of the band are the rope men, holding the lines that keep the crowd from getting too close.