‘Uncle’ Lionel Batiste embodied New Orleans

Much of what I love about New Orleans was embodied by “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, who died Sunday at age 81.

"Uncle" Lionel Batiste with the Treme Brass Band, Mardi Gras 2012

“Uncle” Lionel Batiste with the Treme Brass Band, Mardi Gras 2012, in a screen grab from a YouTube video by Dylan James Stansbury. See the video to check out Unc’s moves!

Like his bass drum, his presence seemed out of proportion to his physical size. So it is throughout New Orleans, where modest things — a walk by the river, a plate of red beans, a shotgun house — take on outsized importance.

Although I never knew him as a young man, his vitality was irrepressible. He loved to look good, he loved to flirt with the ladies, he loved to be part of the crowd on Frenchmen Street. So it is throughout New Orleans, where celebration of life comes so naturally.

And, oh, he was generous. My son Nick was 11 or 12 when he met Uncle Lionel, shortly after our move to New Orleans. We were in Dutch Alley; leaving an afternoon performance at the National Park Service space there. Uncle Lionel showed an interest in Nick, who had been drumming for two or three years. When Nick admired his necktie with a drum kit design, he took it off and gave it to him.

That necktie was lost in Hurricane Katrina. But, like Uncle Lionel, the meaning it held will carry on.

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2 thoughts on “‘Uncle’ Lionel Batiste embodied New Orleans

  1. Dustin Cook says:

    Uncle Lionel was awesome! He will be missed.

  2. He certainly embodied many things about his town. At the end he brought so many of us out of the houses and brought us together. I know I wore my coolest current gear thinking of him.
    good to see your work Cathy!

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