Written by: Natalie Pompilio
Photography by: Tia Nash Photography
Kelly Hamblin and Michael Benedict met while living in Washington, D.C., but they didn’t truly connect until a few years later when they both took international development jobs in East Africa, she in Rwanda, he in Uganda.
“We had both just moved away from all of our friends and family and the only people we knew online at the same time in the same time zone was each other,” said Michael, who with Kelly, now lives in Seattle. “We weren’t as far away as that sounds, maybe four or five hours apart.”
She visited him. He visited her. He took work in Kenya. She transferred to Tanzania. But love knows no borders.
In 2017, the couple were spending December holidays in South Africa, where Michael lived. They decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Reverie Social Table, a Cape Town restaurant owned by close friend Julia Hattingh. The chef was introducing the upcoming courses and sparkling wine pairings when, as planned, Michael cut in, standing and saying, “Excuse me, everybody. May I have your attention please?”
He went down on one knee and offered Kelly a ring with a Tanzanite stone, the blue-violet gem found only in Tanzania, set in platinum shaped like a protea, South Africa’s national flower. An airplane was etched inside the band.
Kelly said yes to Michael’s proposal. She wasn’t the only one. “A guy in the other corner had already had some wine and he also accepted,” Michael says.
They chose to marry in New Orleans, a city Kelly knew well from growing up in Lafourche Parish. The event would coincide with Jazz Fest.
“We wanted to attract friends who lived abroad to a city they might not have visited otherwise,” Kelly says. “Jazz Fest would highlight the amazing food and music the city has to offer.”
About 70 guests from around the world came together in May 2019 for festivities that included a crawfish boil managed by Kelly’s childhood friends and live music on Frenchmen Street. The couple exchanged vows on May 4, the second Jazz Fest Saturday, at City Park’s Popp Bandstand. After toasting with Champagne and enjoying beignets from Café du Monde, the party moved to the Fair Grounds.
Everyone scattered during the festival but at the end of the day, somehow, without any planning, the couple and many of their guests were together at the Gentilly Stage as Diana Ross began the day’s final set. The day, which had started with heavy rains and been mostly cloudy, was now clear. Under a warm sun, with Ross singing “Endless Love,” Kelly and Michael had their first dance as a married couple.
“It was a great way to end the day,” Kelly says.
NOW Spotlight Wedding Pros:
CEREMONY LOCATION: New Orleans City Park
EVENT COORDINATOR + DESIGNER: Rena Sweeney, Alchemy Events
REHEARSAL DINNER CATERING: Toulouse Gourmet
Additional Credits :
REHEARSAL DINNER + GETTING READY LOCATION: Mcarty House | OFFICIANT: Eric Benedict | RECEPTION LOCATION: Cafe Du Monde, City Park; Jazz Fest | BRIDE’S GOWNS: Blue Sky Bridal, Seattle (ceremony); Anthropologie (reception) | MENSWEAR: Indochino Custom Suits | FLORIST: Christina for Unique Floral Designs | BAKERY: Haydel’s Bakery | TRANSPORTATION: Riverbend Charter | HAIR: Ashley Coulon | DECOR RENTALS: True Value Rentals