“Boss Queen” Jill Conner Browne conceived of and founded the Sweet Potato Queens® in the early 1980s. After passing through a patch of the doldrums, she found herself in need of some excitement, and a new direction. Jill discovered that she lived near Vardaman, Mississippi, self- proclaimed Sweet Potato Capital of the World, and inspiration struck—she volunteered to be the queen for the farmers’ annual festival. Although the crowning never materialized, the prospect of being the queen of anything was too good to pass up; so, in 1982 Jill entered herself and a few similarly inspired friends in Jackson, Mississippi’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The four original Queens all wore green, hand-me-down, ball gowns and tiaras, and waved to the crowd from the bed of an old pickup truck. It was modest, but it was a start. The Queenly costume has undergone several upgrades since then, and now consists of a green-sequined dress (stuffed to its voluptuous forty-pound carrying weight), flowing red wigs, Revlon® “Love That Pink” lipstick, and real-live majorette boots. By 2011 the Sweet Potato Queens®entourage had outgrown the St. Paddy’s parade; so, Jill partnered with Fondren Renaissance Foundation and created the Zippity Doo Dah® Weekend, benefiting Children’s of Mississippi, the only hospital in the state where any child can be treated, regardless of ability to pay.
In the 2014 Zippity Doo Dah® event in Fondren, the Queens presented the first and only statewide Welcome Home Parade for Viet Nam Veterans, with local VVA members serving as the Grand Marshals. The first seven Zippity Doo Dah® events raised over $500,000 for sick and injured children of Mississippi.
In 2018, a renewed collaboration with the organizers of Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade was achieved. Beginning in 2019, that event is moving to the Queens’ traditional date of the 4th weekend in March and the Queens will be rejoining the downtown event, with the expectation of even bigger crowds in attendance and more money raised for Children’s of Mississippi.
Jill has written nine books: Fat Is The New 30: The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Coping with (the crappy parts of) Life, (Amazon Publishing, 2012); American Thighs: The Sweet Potato Queen’s Guide to Preserving your Assets, (Simon & Schuster, 2009); The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit (Simon & Schuster, 2008); her sixth book is her first work of fiction: The Sweet Potato Queens’ 1st Big-Ass Novel: Stuff we didn’t actually do, but could have and may yet (Simon & Schuster, 2007); her fifth book—a New York Times® bestseller—is The Sweet Potato Queens’ Wedding Planner and Divorce Guide, (Crown Publishers, 2005), an ingenious flip-book; her second #1 New York Times® bestseller is The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay, or Dead (Three Rivers Press, 2004); her first #1 New York Times®bestseller is The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) (Three Rivers Press, 2003); the national bestseller God Save the Sweet Potato Queens (Three Rivers Press, 2001); and The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love (Three Rivers Press, 1999)—also a New York Times® bestseller and the work that started it all—has been translated into German and Japanese. Jill has won awards for her readings of the audio versions of her books and she also narrates, Building Blocks, a documentary about cultural recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.
SWEET POTATO QUEENS—the Musical—premiered March 2016 in Houston, Texas at Theater Under the Stars, Underground—is based on the Sweet Potato Queens®. Grammy® award-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester wrote the music; the lyrics are by Oscar® nominee, international multiple #1 songwriter and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, Sharon Vaughn; and, the stage play is by Rupert Holmes, the first person in theatrical history to solely win Tony® Awards for Best Book, Best Music and Lyrics, and Best Musical for The Mystery of Edwin Drood. SWEET POTATO QUEENS—the Musical is currently available for licensing through TRW. www.theatricalrights.com for more information.
Jill has been featured in USA Today, Newsweek, People, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, The St. Petersburg Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Forbes, SOUTH, The London Observer Magazine (UK), and Bella Magazine (UK), and Today in English(France) just to name a few; she has appeared on numerous TV shows, including three times on The CBS Early Show and three times on Good Morning America; she been on the Today Show, CBS News Sunday Morning, The Other Half, The Wayne Brady Show, The Caroline Rhea Show, Southern Living Presents(nominated for a 2005 Regional EMMY®), The Rick & Bubba® Show twice, CMT’s 100 Greatest Love Songs, Tucker Carlson, Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s TV productions of Writers, (The “Southern Humorists” episode featuring Jill won a 2005 Regional EMMY®) and Mississippi Roads; Jill represents Mississippi in the History Channel’s mini-series, The States (2007), and a photograph of her attending a luncheon in President George W. Bush’s private dining room is prominently shown in the History Channel’s The White House: Behind Closed Doors (2008); Jill has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. Through Jill’s books, personal appearances, and social media she has inspired 6,400 registered Sweet Potato Queen Wannabe™ Chapter Groups, in 37 countries around the world.
Jill is a founding member of the Women’s Fund of The Community Foundation of Greater Jackson. She assisted Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, raising over $100,000 in cash through her website; she cooked with Chefs for Humanity™ for law enforcement and victims on the Gulf Coast; she did clean-up detail with Camp Coast Care and she participated in the nationally televised Mississippi Rising Gala Concert, raising in excess of $15 Million. Jill serves on the Volunteer Board of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and on the Executive Board of Trustees for Extra Table—a not-for-profit that provides healthy food in bulk to food pantries and soup kitchens in Mississippi. Jill received the Mississippi National Guard Patriot Award for her support of our military and was chosen by Mississippi Business Journal for their 50 Leading Business Women in Mississippi. The Mississippi Commission on the Status of Women awarded Jill Woman of the Year 2013 for her outstanding contributions in the Performing Arts & Entertainment Field. Jill received the Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence 2017 GIVE Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Building Initiatives.
The International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society registered the cultivar: Nymphaea “Queen Jill,” a waterlily specifically created to honor Jill’s charitable works—with a portion of global sales benefitting Batson Children’s Hospital.
When Jill is not writing or speaking at fundraising events around the country, she lives and reigns in Raymond, MS, with the leetle keety that came with their 189-year old house, a rescued 3-legged Australian Shepard, a rescued Lab-Weimaraner mix, a rescued Lab- Coonhound mix, a rescued Lab-“party mix” and her husband…also adopted. And no, he’s not the Sweet Potato King.