Drummer Russell Batiste, Jr. has died of a heart attack at the age of 57. Russell grew up in one of New Orleans’ most famous musical families, performing from the age of seven with his father David Batiste, Sr. and his brother Damon Batiste. He went on to earn fame as a drummer for Charmaine Neville, the funky Meters, Papa Grows Funk, George Porter, Jr. & the Runnin' Pardners, The Wild Magnolias, the Joe Krown Trio (alongside Walter "Wolfman" Washington), Vida Blue, Porter-Batiste-Stoltz (PBS), Sharon Richards, Robbie Robertson, Champion Jack Dupree, Harry Connick, Jr., and Brides of Jesus, among many others, as well as his own bands, Russell Batiste, Jr. and the Orkestra from Da Hood and Russell Batiste & Friends. Despite preferring to perform in local clubs, Batiste gained an international following, including compliments from the likes of Mick Jagger.
Born on December 12, 1965 as David Russell Batiste, Jr., he was a member of the famous Batiste New Orleans musical family and learned to play multiple instruments as a child. He joined the Batiste Brothers Band alongside his father and brother when he was just in grade school. The group debuted at Jazz Fest in 1978 as "Young Gifted & Black," and returned in 1979 as the Batiste Brothers Band. In high school, Russ was also a saxophonist with the prestigious St. Augustine Marching 100. He graduated in 1983 then attended Southern University, where he studied under the great avant-garde saxophonist Kidd Jordan and pianist Roger Dickerson. In the late 1980s, he joined the Meters after the departure of Zigaboo Modeliste. When guitarist Leo Nocentelli left the group, as well, Batiste continued to perform with Art Neville and George Porter as the funky Meters.
Batiste's final parade was as part of the drum corps for the Krewe of O.A.K.'s Mid-Summer Mardi Gras on August 26, 2023. His final gigs were as part of a September residency with Russell Batiste & Friends Sundays at Le Bon Temps Roule, and he had been scheduled to perform at the upcoming NOLA Funk Fest three times: with his own band, with The Gladiators, and with Leo Nocentelli.
In a spring 2021 interview with BreakThru Media Magazine, Batiste said, "I had a great childhood. My life has been great all along. I got God on my side. I've done some stuff. So that's where I'm at. I'm happy still trying to play music and that's all I can do. Keep on playing the music and I love it."
WWOZ sends our best wishes to his family and friends at this difficult time.
A private visitation for members of the St. Augustine High School community will be held on Friday, October 6 4-6pm at Professional Funeral Services (1449 N. Claiborne Ave.). A public visitation will be held Monday, October 9, 5-7pm with a musical jam session to follow. Visitation will be held at St. Katherine Drexel Catholic Church (2015 Louisiana Ave.) will be held 9-9:45am on Tuesday, October 10, followed by a burial Mass at 10am.
WWOZ's on-air tribute to Russell Batiste from Tuesday, October 3 from 11am-1pm CT on the New Orleans Music Show with host Cole Williams is available now on our 2-week archive. Hear music, remembrances, stories, and more from many of Batiste's longtime collaborators and friends, including Stanton Moore, George Porter, Jr., John "Papa" Gros, Leo Nocentelli, Billy Iuso, Brian Stoltz, Joe Krown, Charmaine Neville, Eddie Christmas, and others.
Below, a few photos of Batiste from recent years.