Jill Conner Browne, holding up a piece of paper that read “Zip-PADDY-Doo-Dah,” says today is a full circle kind of day.

The Sweet Potato Queen® was part of the announcement of the 36th annual Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade – that includes her return to the downtown event (along with a new date, March 23, 2019), the theme, “A Magical Mystery Tour,” grand marshal, Robert St. John, and a Patty Peck Honda car giveaway.

It also answered the oft-asked question: “Will Fondren’s Zippity Doo Dah® event return?” (For now, no.)

“This is where we started,” she said, paying tribute to parade co-founder Malcolm White. “I have not made a speech anywhere in the country at any time where I did not give Malcolm credit for giving us reason to exist in that first parade. This means the world to me to be invited back. The Queens will be thrilled.”

White, in announcing the changes for next year, noted moving away from spring break as the reason for the date change, hopeful to attract more school and college bands. He also cited bringing Browne back as another.

“(The Sweet Potato Queens) had had the fourth weekend in Fondren,” White said. “When that changed, we were happy to invite them back to be a part of the parade Jill helped birth… create. It’s a date change and reunion, a joyous reunion. I couldn’t be happier to have Jill Conner Browne back with us in the streets of Jackson.”

Browne also announced today the run of the New Stage Theatre production of the Sweet Potato Queens’ musical (written by Rupert Holmes with music from Melissa Manchester), on stage next year the weekend before and the weekend of the Paddy’s parade. “It’s about the queens, and about the downtown parade, so it all makes sense. It’s perfect timing.”

Reflecting on the last several years and her involvement in Fondren’s Zippity Doo Dah Weekend, which ran from 2011 – 2016, Browne said, “I am profoundly grateful to Fondren – to everyone there who helped us make Zippity Doo Dah happen. There are two things that came out of that that I’m most proud of-of anything I have ever accomplished.”

“First, in 2013, we put on the first – and only in the United States – statewide ‘Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran’s parade. And, in a few short years, we managed to raise close to $600,000 for Children’s of Mississippi. I’m very proud of those two things.”

Fondren Renaissance, who spearheaded ZDD efforts in Fondren, applauded White and Browne’s reunion.

“We’ve talked for two years of combining our two parades – which both require an unreal amount of time and money to produce,” FRF Executive Director Jim Wilkirson said. “We’ve continued to raise money for the hospital, even without a parade, and will now be able to focus more energy on that, supporting the efforts of the downtown events.”

As the day’s announcements washed over Browne, she left the press conference with one trepidation: “While most of our Queens are young and sprightly and beautiful, I am an old woman,” she deadpanned. “I benefit greatly from being seen from a distance, dimly lit, on a softly lit moving float – at night. This will be my first time to appear in broad daylight in all my garb. We may introduce veils to our outfits this year.”

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