During the wake for Lionel Batiste, some mourners mistook the New Orleans music legend for a mannequin. Why? Because the bass drummer’s body was propped up in a standing position at the front of the room. Even in death, the man known as Uncle Lionel was not without his whistle, cane and trademark watch wrapped around his palm.
Storyville Stompers tuba player Woody Penouilh told The Times-Picayune: ‘He looks better today than when I saw him the Thursday before he died. Heaven is agreeing with him.’ The paper reported that the unique wake stemmed from a promise made by the musician’s son, who said: ‘I told him, “I’m going to take care of you. I’m going to send you off good.” That’s the kind of guy he was. He had to be an original.’
Louis Charbonnet, who has been in the funeral business for 50 years, said that he had never done anything like the stand-up viewing.
Charbonnet said ‘You have to think outside the box. And so he’s outside the box. We didn’t want him to be confined to his casket.’
He added that some of his rival funeral home proprietors came by to see how he did it. The next day, on Friday, a burial service was thwarted by rain, but that didn’t stop hundreds of revellers from celebrating Batiste’s life.
Batiste, the vocalist, bass drummer and assistant leader of the Treme Brass Band, died of cancer on July 8. He was 81.
Fans of the HBO series Treme may not have known Batiste by name, but they often saw him close up. He was the skinny guy with the big drum in the band, one of the acts regularly featured on the show.