April 12-16, 2023



Rashad and Ripa, Past Queen Azaleas

The North Carolina Azalea Festival began in 1948 with a huge fanfare of festivities. One of the main events was the crowning of Jacqueline White as the very first Azalea Festival Queen Azalea. Although there would be many queens to come, Jacqueline set the standards high and paved the wave for all future queens.

One of those future Azalea queens would include 1985’s Queen Azalea, Phylicia Rashad. Phylicia became the Azalea Festivals 38th Queen. You may remember her for her role as Clair Huxtable on the NBC sitcom “The Cosby Show” that ran from 1984–1992. Phylicia was notably the Azalea Festivals first African-American Queen.

During 1985 Phylicia was on top of the world. She was on an Emmy award-winning sitcom and was dating Ahmad Rashād, a sportscaster and previous pro football player. Rashad later that year proposed to Phylicia during a nationally televised professional pregame show on Thanksgiving Day. She said yes and went on to marry Ahmad on December 14, 1985. 

Phylicia was honored to be the 1985 Azalea Festival Queen and did an amazing job. She was truly a joy to the local community and Azalea Festival visitors alike. Here are a few notable comments that were said about her during her reign:

Tanya M. “I met her as Queen. She was the absolute nicest Queen ever!”

Beth B. “I was on my way to class at Cape Fear Technical Institute (yes, before it was CFCC) and she was walking out of the WWAY studios. She stopped and talked for a couple of minutes. One of the most gracious and sweet ladies – a real class act!”

Here in Wilmington, Phylicia Rashad will always be a Queen in our hearts. However, she has gone on to star in many television shows and movies. She has even graced the stage of Broadway. But today she can be found more often behind the cameras as she spends most of her time directing.

Now let’s jump ahead to 1993 when Kelly Ripa was crowned the 46th Azalea Festival Queen. Three years prior to the event Kelly had been cast in her first major acting role on the daytime soap, “All My Children.” Kelly brought much excitement to the Festival with her youth and very vibrant personality.

In 1993 Ripa had no idea that in 1995 she would meet Mark Consuelos, a co-star on “All My Children,” and elope with him just one short year later. Not only was Ripa on top of the world with her personal life, but her professional life was exploding as well. Kelly went on to star on “All My Children” until 2002 and only left the show because she had a grander opportunity. On February 5, 2001, Ripa became the official morning show sidekick to Regis Philbin and the show was renamed, “Live! with Regis and Kelly.”

On her talk show on April 10, 2015, Ripa gave a shout-out about her time in Wilmington, NC, and her reign as an Azalea Festival Queen.

“I had no concept of what a huge deal it was and what an honor it was until they sent me all this literature on it,” said Ripa. “And when you see the Queens that went before you, you thought oh my gosh. It was amazing.”

Currently, Kelly’s career is still growing by leaps and bounds. Not only is she the headliner on, “Live! with Kelly and Ryan” (Seagraves) but she and her husband Mark own a production company, Milojo, which is doing quite well.

We thank all of our past North Carolina Azalea Festival Queens. Not only is it nice to recall the past but to also celebrate with them as we look at “where they are now”. We are honored that these two ladies and all the Queens before and after them have taken the time to visit our city, meet us, entertain us and celebrate with us. 

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