When I’m 80 I hope I’m still dancing on Frenchmen St.
Photograph of Uncle Lionel Batiste Dancing on Frenchmen St.
At the age of 81 Uncle Lionel Batiste passed away on July 8 after a battle with cancer. He had no idea who I was, and I didn’t really know him. Yet he was one of those people that you randomly meet that have a lasting impression on you. Six years ago I was back in New Orleans for the first Mardi Gras following Hurricane Katrina. The city was eerily empty & quite with less then half of the population back. However after dealing with months of pain & heartbreak, everyone that could returned to New Orleans to celebrate this important cultural holiday. The heart and soul of NOLA was alive again with the musicians, the artists, and street performers. As well as the dancers, the shakers, and cafe au lait makers.
I was out enjoying the live music at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen St. when this older stylish man walked up from the crowd & started dancing and singing along with the band. I was memorized by his confidence, his skill, and his gold watch oddly placed around his hand. His voice induced smiles all around and his charm lit up the room. I just had my little point & shoot camera with me, but had to take a picture to remember him by. I loved this picture so much that I printed and framed it in my home. It wasn’t until someone saw the picture in my home a couple years later that I learned it was New Orleans legend Uncle Lionel Batiste. For years following I would unexpectedly run into him again dancing and enjoying life on Frenchmen St. I’m sad to have learned that I will never see him perform again, yet so thankful to have been graced by his positive presence. And thankful I still have this image to always remember him and that night at the Spotted Cat back on Frenchmen St.
Uncle Lionel Batiste’s life will be celebrated with a traditional New Orleans 2nd line jazz funeral through the streets of Treme in New Orleans. If you are in New Orleans today, dance at his 2nd line for me. Details of his jazz funeral can be found here: 2nd Line & Funeral Services