Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NY Times: New Orleans Celebrates the Life of a Bandleader

Read full story HERE.

NEW ORLEANS — The drums could be heard first and then the brass, and then, far down the street in the twilight, people could be seen dancing and swaying, the bells of sousaphones above them like halos. Shuffling back and forth at the front of the parade was a paint horse named Sunshine that somebody taught how to dance.

This was Day 2 of the party that has lasted over a week in the Treme neighborhood. On some nights there have been small, informal parades like this one; on other nights people from around the city and even tourists have flocked to this neighborhood, New Orleans’s cultural and musical heart, to see or be a part of a certain kind of celebration that takes place almost nowhere else.

On the nights between the death and the burial of one of their colleagues, musicians gather to play and remember. This culminates in the funeral procession, one of those local traditions that is featured in the city’s marketing materials but is no less old and true for it. People still talk about processions from years past, but in terms of size, the one coming up this Friday may be among the largest in recent memory.

“The way things is going, this is probably going to be the biggest,” said Action Jackson, a D.J. who follows cultural events for the local radio station WWOZ.

The man being laid to rest is Lionel Batiste, known to everyone for decades as Uncle Lionel, to many simply as “Unc.” Mr. Batiste, who was 80 when he died of cancer on July 8, was the singer, bass drummer and assistant grand marshal for the Treme Brass Band. He was also one of the great New Orleans personalities, the face of Treme and a consummate man about town.

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