Dressing Up for the Blues and Jingle Bell Ball

The holiday season's most anticipated event, the annual Blues Ball, brings together people from across the city to celebrate Memphis' musical heritage while raising money for local charities.

Afterwards, children ring in the holiday, too, with the Jingle Bell Ball.

The two galas take place at the Gibson Guitar Factory (across from the FedEx Forum); the Blues Ball on Friday, November 30th, and the Jingle Bell Ball on Sunday, December 2nd. Tickets for the children's ball are $25 and available at Cotton Tails and Sachi, 389 N. Perkins at the Laurelwood Shopping Center. Visit memphischaritable.org for more details.

Each children's age group has its own party that take place throughout the afternoon: Children's Cookie Party for toddlers to 2nd graders (2-3:30 p.m.), Jingle Bell Rock for 3rd and 4th graders (3-4:30 p.m.), Mistletoe Mash for 5th and 6th graders (4-5:30 p.m.), and the Holiday Dance for 7th and 8th graders (5:30-7 p.m.).

Producing such a big event (the two parties draw more than 10,000 guests) takes several months of preparation. As founder and producer, Pat Kerr Tigrett says the decorating begins just after Halloween.

Behind the scenes, voluteers stream in and out of the Gibson facility all month, hanging miles of twinkle lights and hand-tieing thousands of silver mylar streamers to netting draped from the ceiling of the entry hall.

Tigrett says many of the set pieces, 20x40 foot paintings of Memphis' musical icons and a city scene lit up with lights, are rolled up and saved from year to year. Once the Blues Ball ends, Christmas trees come out and a lighter, more holiday feel is created for the children's parties.

During the Jingle Bell Ball, kids are entertained by DJs, puppeteers, street performers on stilts, even Santa makes an appearance. In addition to the fun, "Parents understand it's a party with a purpose," notes Tigrett, raising money for organizations like Madonna Learning Center and the March of Dimes.

Tigrett also likes that the gala brings families downtown, where they can dip into the Peabody Hotel to see its holiday decorations, or stop by Rockeyfella Center (AutoZone Park) to eye the 35-foot Christmas tree that stands center stage at the Redbirds home.

The Jingle Bell Ball started 24 years ago, when her own son, Kerr, was still in middle school and many of the volunteers were also close friends. Tigrett launched it because she felt it was important that children "have something special of their own to look forward to." Children from all over the city attend, even kids from St. Jude.

More than two decades later, the galas announce that the holiday season has officially begun. Come celebrate.

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