FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2006 file photo, Uncle Lionel Batiste, center with umbrella, dances during the Krew of Cork parade through New Orleans' French Quarter. Batiste, the vocalist, bass drummer and assistant band leader of the Treme Brass Band, has died. He was 81. Band leader Benny Jones Sr. says Batiste died Sunday, July 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Updated: August 10, 2012 6:35AM
NEW ORLEANS — Lionel Batiste, the vocalist, bass drummer and assistant leader of the Treme Brass Band, has died. He was 81.
Fans of the HBO series “Treme” may not have known Mr. Batiste by name, but they often saw him close up. He was the skinny guy with the big drum in the band, one of the acts regularly featured on the show.
Mr. Batiste died Sunday at the Ochsner Health System’s hospital just outside New Orleans, said his daughter, Karen Williams.
Mr. Batiste, known as “Uncle Lionel,” had been ill for about a month, said band leader Benny Jones Sr. He said Mr. Batiste had been with the band since it was formed in 1995, but had played bass drum since childhood.
Mr. Batiste used his drum to stay afloat in the floods after Hurricane Katrina, clarinetist 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.”
“I’m broken-hearted,” said actor Wendell Pierce, who played trombonist Antoine Batiste on “Treme.”
“He’s part of a long line of great musicians and great family.” AP