The Times-Picayune is reporting that “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, longtime bass drummer and assistant band leader of the Treme Brass Band, died Sunday after a brief battle with cancer. He was 81.
Batiste’s daughter Karen Williams confirmed that the iconic New Orleans musician was surrounded by those closest to him at the time of his passing.
“It is with deep sadness that we inform the New Orleans community of the passing of our beloved ‘Uncle Lionel’ this morning at Ochsner Hospital,” Williams said in a statement Sunday. “He was surrounded by his family and loved ones and transitioned peacefully. Uncle Lionel was 80 years old. The family wishes to extend its deep gratitude for the kindness and love shown during his illness.”
Born in New Orleans in 1931, Lionel Batiste began his music career at the age of 11 playing bass drum with the Square Deal Social & Pleasure Club. In addition to playing drums for the Treme Brass band, Batiste occasionally sang, more often, Batiste danced.
“While [Lionel] was a shoeshiner in the French Quarter as a boy, in his younger years he was brought on stage next to Pork Chop and Kidney Stew to show off his tap-dancing skills.”
While Batiste rose to fame slowly with the Treme Brass Band, he appeared in numerous commercials and television shows, including Treme, an HBO drama series that chronicles the rebuilding of New Orleans after the hurricane through the eyes of local musicians.
He was also central figure in Spike Lee’s Hurricane Katrina documentary, and he was frequently featured as the face of New Orleans for the city’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, according to THR.
“He would bring joy and just New Orleans spirit,” said Treme clarinetist Michael White. “He made people feel good about themselves and about living.”
ABC reports that members of the Treme Brass Band plan to pay tribute to Lionel Batiste Wednesday night at the Candlelight Bar on North Robertson Street in New Orleans.
In memory of Uncle Lionel Batiste, watch as he sings “Do You Know What It Means” below: