Legendary New Orleans musician makes last stand

Stephen Elliott Contributor
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At famed New Orleans character and Treme Brass Band drummer “Uncle” Lionel Batiste’s wake Thursday afternoon, mourners had a hard time locating the casket.

The Times-Picayune reported Batiste’s corpse was not in a casket. Instead he was leaning against a fake street lamp inside the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home, dressed in his typical attire. He was wearing a sport coat, pocket square, bowler hat and sunglasses. Batiste’s bass drum was positioned to his side.

Storyville Stompers tuba player Woody Penouilh said Batiste “looks better today than when I saw him the Thursday before he died.”

Batiste’s children and funeral home owner Louis Charbonnet decided to embalm the jazz legend standing up, because “he had to be an original,” according to his son Lionel Batiste Jr.

Charbonnet studied pictures of Batiste to determine his posture and stance. “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,” said Charbonnet.

Batiste died July 8 of cancer at age 80. His commemoration continues Friday with a formal ceremony at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, where Batiste is expected to be inside his casket.

In this video from weeks before Batiste died, the jazz drummer performs “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” at the 2012 Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.

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