Lionel Batiste, who died on 8 July at the age of 81, was the vocalist, bass drummer and assistant leader of the Treme Brass Band in New Orleans.
Fans of the HBO cable television series Treme may not have known Batiste by name, but they often saw him close up. He was the thin man with the big drum in the band, one of the acts regularly featured on the show. Batiste, known as "Uncle Lionel," had been ill for about a month. He 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, clarinettist 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. He recalled that in the late 1960s, Batiste wasn't playing but "second-lining" – dancing and strutting with a decorated umbrella to the music – and acting as grand marshal for parades and funerals. "He would bring joy and just New Orleans spirit ... He made people feel good about themselves and about living." The "Treme 2012" bicentennial poster features a photograph of Batiste and his drum.
"I'm broken-hearted," said actor Wendell Pierce, who played trombonist Antoine Batiste in Treme. "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." He added that 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 bt the world over."