There are few celebrations that have developed their own musical genre. In New Orleans, music is such a part of carnival that fans of Mardi Gras can literally develop a playlist that will run for hours. Most carnival visitors have witnessed the wild abandon of revelers in Mardi Gras masks, costumes, or Mardi Gras accessories cutting a rug to the most joyful music to be found anywhere. Many songs stand out in this huge collection of carnival music. However, there is only one song that has stood the test of time as a royal anthem of Mardi Gras: “If I Ever Cease to Love.”
The funny thing is that this song really is a bunch of nonsense! It is a simple old-fashioned tune that gives examples of fantastical things that would all happen before the singer “ceases to love.” It is curious that this song does not mention Mardi Gras at all, yet it has been used for generations as the official royal anthem of the most prominent and traditionally respected parade in New Orleans, Rex.
The song was used at the first Rex parade, held in 1872. The song was used to represent the King and Queen. An interesting tidbit about that first parade is that actual royalty were in attendance, as the parade was witnessed by the Russian Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich Romanov and his entourage. It is said that the Grand Duke played along and bowed to the “King” and “Queen” of New Orleans on their one day as nobility.
The song “If I Ever Cease to Love” was based on an English song first published in 1871. It is believed that the song was plagiarized by an American performer named Lydia Thompson and was claimed as her own. In either case, the tradition of playing this song as a backdrop to Rex events is a comforting tradition that recalls the days of old.