A collection of obituaries, reminscences and photos of the late "Uncle" Lionel Batiste.
On Sunday, "Uncle" Lionel Batiste passed away at age 80 or 81 of cancer. It's tempting to say that he was an "only in New Orleans" sort of figure - someone who was beloved for being himself. His musical career dates back at least to the 1950s, when he played bass drum with the Olympia Brass Band (coincidentally, I was watching 1973's Live and Let Die on Saturday night; does anybody know if he was in the second line scenes? I thought I saw him.), but he is best known musically as the bass drummer for the Treme Brass Band. His legend was born from more than just his musical abilities; Batiste brought the Treme and the second line to his day to day living. He always had his look together, he was open to those around him, and he loved to dance. The last time I saw him, he was dancing with a tourist at The Spotted Cat during a Meschiya Lake show, then he mimicked a trombone solo using his cane as a slide. It was a piece of showmanship that he used more than once, each time with equal charm, style and grace.
Here's the family's statement from his daughter, Karen Williams:
It is with deep sadness that we inform the New Orleans community of the passing of our beloved "Uncle Lionel" this morning at Ochsner Hospital. He was surrounded by his family and loved ones and transitioned peacefully. The family wishes to extend its deep gratitude for the kindness and love shown during his illness. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized at this time.
So far, no plans have been announced for his funeral, but he will be celebrated Wednesday night when the Treme Brass Band plays its usual show at the Candlelight Lounge in the Treme. Here's Keith Spera's obituary for Uncle Lionel, here's the AP's story, here's the USA Today's report, and here's a remembrance from Jay Mazza. In 2006, OffBeat profiled Uncle Lionel when the magazine awarded him its Heartbeat Award:
Those cross streets in the Tremé neighborhood where he waited to be transported were just blocks away from the upstairs apartment where he was born 76 years ago at 1931 St. Phillip Street near St. Claude Avenue. Everyone in his large family was involved in music in some way whether it was playing an instrument or simply a kazoo or a jug, singing or dancing. His first instrument was a bass drum he made out of a galvanized washtub that he beat with a hammer a la steel drums. When it came time to march he’d simply turn the improvised instrument sideways and use a mallet created out of a stick and a rubber ball. Later, Batiste often played either banjo or guitar particularly on Mardi Gras Day when his family rolled with the Dirty Dozen Kazoo Band, a precursor to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
A memorial fund has been set up for those who wish to help with Batiste's medical and funeral expenses. Donations can be made to the "Uncle Lionel Memorial Fund" at any Liberty Bank and Trust Branch or by writing:
Uncle Lionel Batiste Benefit Fund c/o Liberty Bank
New Orleans LA 70160-0131
Batiste was featured on the Treme 2012 poster. Ten dollars from each poster sold will go to his family to help cover funeral expenses.