Uncle Lionel Batiste, vocalist and bass drummer for the Treme Brass Band—and the embodiment of a whole way of life-- died Sunday in New Orleans at the age of 81. Said the Times Picayune: "Inside Uncle Lionel's bass drum," said fellow drummer Herman LeBeaux, "is the pulse of the city."
The blog Off Beat remembers this one-of-a-kind icon this way:
"Uncle Lionel patrolled the banquette along lower Decatur and Frenchmen Streets with the panache of a potentate or prelate. Always impeccably dressed in a crisply tailored suit, usually accompanied by a color coordinated bowler hat, he sashayed down the block, a wizened figure greeting people with a smile a nod of his head and occasionally a tip of that cap or a flourish of his walking stick. When Uncle Lionel sauntered out of his digs he was on stage – and he clearly loved to be recognized and basked in the attention he received. In addition to his ministrations toward the regular denizens of the block Unc had time for everyone and seemed to particularly enjoy the attentions of tourists, tirelessly letting them chat him up and willingly posing for endless photographs. He should have gotten a stipend from the tourist industry for his ambassador-like demeanor."
"During his frequent sojourns Uncle Lionel moved at an inexorable pace, attuned to the rhythms of his home town. The day Batiste died drummer Doug Belote posted an anecdote on Facebook. "Uncle Lionel, why do you wear your watch across your palm instead of on your wrist?" asked Belote. "I want everyone to know," Lionel answered, "I have time on my hands."