PUBLISHED: 15:22 EST, 24 July 2012 | UPDATED: 16:46 EST, 24 July 2012
During the wake for Lionel Batiste last week, 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.
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Dead man standing: Lionel Batiste’s body is propped up at a New Orleans funeral home for his wake last week. At right, Batiste’s trademark watch, whistle and jewellery is pictured in his hands
The real deal: Batiste’s body stood on display as mourners played for him during the wake
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.
Mr Charbonnet told The Times-Picayune: ‘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.’
Musical: Batiste was the skinny guy with the big drum in the band, regularly featured on the HBO series Treme
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.
But the foul weather didn’t stop hundreds of fans, friends and neighbors from packing a theater for Lionel Batiste’s funeral, turning what could have been a somber ceremony into a fittingly raucous celebration of his life.
The audience at the Mahalia Jackson Theater danced in the aisles and gave standing ovations to a procession of musicians paying tribute to Batiste.
On Monday, the same celebration reconvened as his body – in a casket this time – was lifted into a horse-drawn carriage for one last tour through the French Quarter before Uncle Lionel was laid to rest.
Memorial: A close up of the propped-up body shows Batiste’s trademark jewellery, left, as his grandson, Jarwine Batiste, 7, right, dances in front of his grandfather’s body at his wake
Some waved white handkerchiefs and umbrellas they brought for a ‘second-line’ walking parade that followed the service.
‘We gathered for a funeral, but we’re going to scratch the word ‘funeral’ and call it a celebration,’ said Batiste’s sister-in-law, Ruth LaFrance.
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.
Community: Batiste’s body – in a casket this time – was lifted into a horse-drawn carriage for one last tour through the French Quarter on Monday
More of a party than a funeral: James Andrews play the trumpet during a jazz funeral for Lionel Batiste in New Orleans
Band leader Benny Jones Sr said Batiste had been with the band since it was formed in 1995, but had played bass drum since childhood.
Batiste used his drum to stay afloat in the floods after Hurricane Katrina, Clarinetist Michael White said.
‘The water kept rising,’ White said. ‘He couldn’t swim. The water was too high for him to walk out. He saved himself by floating out on top of his bass drum.’
Batiste’s singing voice was ‘somewhere between blues and old-time gospel, kind of raspy but with a nice quality to it,’ White said.
Actor Wendell Pierce who played trombonist Antoine Batiste on Treme, said: he was ‘broken-hearted.’
Diehard: A fan stands next to the hearse carrying flowers during a parade for Batiste in the French Quarter
‘He’s part of a long line of great musicians and great family. I was honoured to have his name, the name of the character I played, and know that his legacy will live on,’ Pierce said.
Pierce said the legacy of Batiste and his style of music was evident in France, where he was working when he heard Batiste had died.
‘I was walking home from a jazz club about 3am here in Paris, and on the banks of the Seine, there was a brass band playing some New Orleans music,’ Pierce said.
‘It just shows you the impact of musicians like Uncle Lionel… his legacy will be felt not just in New Orleans but the world over.’
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