Treme Brass Band lost one of its members, Lionel Batiste. The musician, who served as a longtime bass drummer, assistant leader and singer of the band, died at the age of 81 after a month of declining health.
His daughter, Karen Williams, confirmed that Batiste passed away Sunday, July 8. He was surrounded by his family and friends at the Ochsner Health System's hospital located just outside his hometown of New Orleans.
Well known as Uncle Batiste, he was a prominent figure in New Orleans music and a role model for many local artists. "He would bring joy and just New Orleans spirit," said clarinetist Michael White. "He made people feel good about themselves and about living."
He played bass drum since he was a child, and survived Hurricane Katrina by using his music instrument to stay afloat. "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, known for his kazoo playing, was in Treme Brass since the band was formed in 1995. He and his band appeared in HBO's drama series "Treme" that chronicles the rebuilding of New Orleans after the hurricane through the eyes of local musicians.
Wendell Pierce, who played trombonist Antoine Batiste on the show, offered his condolence after his passing. "He's part of a long line of great musicians and great family. I was honored to have his name, the name of the character I played, and know that his legacy will live on," he said.
"I was walking home from a jazz club about 3 a.m. here in Paris, and on the banks of the Seine, there was a brass band playing some New Orleans music," he continued. "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."