Updated: Apr 4
There was once a record store in the French Quarter called the Magic Bus owned by two English guys. They both loved the fact that I collected records of random artists so I always got first pick. One day they were laughing about how Fred Schneider of the B52's had been in that week looking for Chris Owens records because he had just attended one of Chris' shows. One of the guys told him that I had gotten them all. Fred wanted to know, “Who is this Arthur?”
Chris Owens was born Christine Joetta Shaw on October 5, 1932, Chris grew up on a farm and went to Texas Wesleyan College to be a nurse. She married car dealer Sol R. Owens in 1956 and opened a nightclub on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter; it was originally intended to be a low-key sideline establishment, but business exploded. Realizing that Owens' performance numbers were a huge draw, they sold their home in 1977 and purchased the building on the corner of St. Louis and Bourbon. Soon the "Chris Owens Review" became a noted act in town. In 1979 Sol had a heart attack and died; Chris Owens took over management of the club and of the 30 apartments and four shops located within the building. The club and Owens' act continue to be a draw. Wikipedia
Chris was an instant star, earning write-ups in the Saturday Evening Post, McCall's Magazine, Town and Country, and New York gossip columnist Walter Winchell's column, "each one emphasizing that mine was the only legitimate act that didn't include taking all my clothes off," Owens proudly said in a 1974 interview with The Times-Picayune.
I'm not sure of the first time that I saw Chris Owens but one thing I know for sure is that my heart skipped a beat. My love affair with her has lasted my entire adult life. Chris has an aura and a presence. I used to see her all the time walking briskly on her way to do her banking at the Whitney on Chartres Street with her white puppy dog in her arms along with one of her beaus at her side or driving her yellow two seater antique Mercedes going to Lagenstein's Grocery on Metairie Road.
“She’s hot!" "She's exciting!” She’s hot!” were on the marquee of her club on the corner of Bourbon and St. Louis Streets which is probably how I first found out about her! The first time I saw her perform was a special performance benefiting one of the gay Mardi Gras krewes that included an after party at her house. I remember the decor vividly in her home which included memorabilia of her life - photos of her and celebrities in the entry hallway. The sofa and curtains were covered in a county French buttercream fabric with flowers on them. The house still had the 60's or 70's Spanish wrought iron and a newly placed Greek column sitting on top of a 6 inch high platform with a white baby grand piano on top of it.
I worked at a salon located in her building and would sometimes do her hair. She even asked me to be in New Orleans magazine with her in a photo essay of local celebrities and their hairdressers.
While I was working there, Geraldo Rivera called her a stripper on his national television show. She was not happy about that at all. She called the network for a retaliation interview and for the interview she wore a blue North Beach leather mini skirt with a lace up top over the decolte and stiletto heels in the same royal blue color.
At a Children’s Hospital benefit with a concert by Liza Minnelli and Aaron Neville held at the Superdome, Chris got attention. The main floor of the dome was set up with decorated tables for the higher dollar donors to dine while watching the show. Even from the first level, I could see her working the floor. She lit up the auditorium wearing a red beaded dress sparkling as the light caught her before the show.
Once at a performance at French Quarter Fest, I got to witness what Chris Owens must have been like during her hey day in the sixties and seventies. She and the band were on fire with a real rhythm and blues review energy. She had stolen moves from the Ike and Tina Turner Review with some of Tina's fiery energy. singing her signature cover of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose!"
The Chris Owens Easter Parade is one of the few float parades still allowed to go through the French Quarter. The paraders are a "ladies who lunch" crowd and a few guys dressed in their finest Easter attire wth Easter bonnets and hats adorning their heads. It is my favourite holiday and one of the reasons why I love New Orleans. Easter is a day to have brunch and watch at least one of the three parades that pass through the Quarter with friends. Everyone is in a festive mood. My dream of riding in the parade finally came true when I got to ride and go to the brunches before and after the parade. Once again Chris makes a grand entrance for her pre-parade brunch. For a while it was held at a hotel on Canal Street and she would arrive in a limo bus. These days it's held at the Royal Orleans so she walks right across the street from her house on St. Louis. A brass band always announces her entrance.
As my photography skills have grown over the years, so has my ability to capture Chris in all of her essence.
She is a true Southern lady and the last Bourbon Street legend living..