The Party With a Purpose for 93 Years

History of Carnival Memphis


In 1931, the Mid-South, like the rest of the country, was in the throes of the Great Depression. The prosperity of the region was dependent on cotton, our chief economic asset, and we needed something that would increase demand for this precious commodity.

At the same time, the Memphis Chamber of Commerce was having trouble raising money to compete with other cities in the South. A. Arthur Halle and a group of businessmen called on Herbert Jennings, manager of Lowe’s Theater, for a donation. Jennings agreed to contribute and shared an idea that he believed would help promote business and draw attention to cotton. To help publicize an upcoming movie, Jennings offered retailers the opportunity to display cotton goods in his theater, and he planned to encourage them to use their own store windows to promote cotton clothing. Halle was intrigued by the idea and envisioned a larger, city-wide promotion. He called his friend, Everett Cook, who was President of the Cotton Exchange and invited Cook to come to the theater to hear Halle and Jennings’ ideas. Those ideas quickly grew into a plan for a grand celebration that would involve a King, a Queen, and a Royal Court, as well as people from all over the Mid-South. Excited about the idea, Cook and Halle met later that evening and by the wee hours of the morning, the plans for the first Carnival had been developed. It worked, and people began to demand more cotton products from socks to ball gowns. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Ninety-one years later, the mission of Carnival remains much the same as it was in 1931: to recognize and promote an industry that has a major economic impact on the Mid-South community, to promote the City of Memphis as a great place to live and work, and to hold an annual celebration in honor of the industry and the people of the Mid-South. In 1987 we dropped the “Cotton” from our name because our community has grown in such tremendous ways, and our economy has become more diversified. We accomplish our mission through the four C’s: Charity, Community, Commerce and Celebration. Part of our celebration is the King, Queen, and Royal Court, just as in 1931. Adding to the pageantry of our celebration are the Ten Grand Krewes of Carnival which have coronations and parties celebrating their King, Queen, and Court as well.

All Carnival and Grand Krewe Royalty participate in our community involvement program called the Carnival Children’s Charity Initiative, which was started in 1999. Each year three local children’s charities are selected by Carnival and the Grand Krewes. During the past 23 years, Carnival and the Grand Krewes have raised more than $4.5 million with matching funds for these charities.

Along with some successful Grand Krewe fundraisers, Carnival hosts two major annual fundraising events to support our Children’s Charities. Krewes for Kids, has been held annually since 2009 and become known community-wide as an incredibly fun, exciting and very successful event.

Carnival was started to promote the Commerce of the Community and this pledge is even stronger today through the annual Business and Industry Salute Luncheon, the cornerstone of the celebration of Carnival. The economic base of the region has grown and diversified to the degree that no one industry is singularly responsible for our economic health. Each year Carnival honors an industry, individuals and organizations that have helped make Memphis a better place to live and work through their community service and involvement.

The storied history of Carnival Memphis has been written over the past nine decades and continues today with a new chapter created by the Royalty, Grand Krewes, members, sponsors, and volunteers of the Carnival Memphis Association. The future is filled with promise for our organization and community.