New Orleans drummer Russell Batiste Jr., who kept the city’s funky beat, dies at 57

A smiling man performs behind a drum set at a festival.
Russell Batiste Jr. of the Funky Meters performs during the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans.
(Rick Diamond / Getty Images)

Russell Batiste Jr. said he was destined to be a drummer.

“I was born with a pair of sticks in my hand,” Batiste said, speaking to “The Jake Feinberg Show” in an interview posted in August. “… A lot of people were born to play sports and other things, but the majority of the Batiste family, they were born to play music.”

Batiste, 57, died Sept. 30 at his home in LaPlace, La., of a heart attack, according to his brother, Damon J. Batiste.

Born David Russell Batiste Jr. in New Orleans on Dec. 12, 1965, he followed in the footsteps of his father, David R. Batiste Sr., leader of David Batiste and the Gladiators, a major force in New Orleans funk music known for “Funky Soul,” and later as a member of the Meters. When Russell Batiste Jr. was 2, he would perform for his family at Christmas, and by the time he was 6, he would play the drums with his father’s band in nightclubs, according to his interview with radio host and podcaster Jake Feinberg. Batiste Jr. was known as the “young lion.”

“The kids will be out playing sports, doing tag and everything else,” his father David Batiste Sr. told The Times. “From a child, he would be in a room practicing [music].”

Batiste Jr. was part of several bands including Vida Blue, Russell Batiste & Friends and Russell Batiste Jr. and the Orkestra From da Hood, as well as the Funky Meters (a successor to the Meters). He also played with other musical artists, including the Wild Magnolias and performed on Harry Connick Jr.’s 1994 “She” album. He also wrote and composed music.

Upholding the family tradition, Batiste Jr. inspired others in his family to pursue music, including his cousin, Grammy-award winning artist Jon Batiste, who told New Orleans television station WWL-TV that Russell was “our kind of blueprint.”


“Such a huge loss for our family,” said Jon Batiste. “Such a huge loss for the culture.”

In a statement provided to the Times, Jon Batiste said his cousin was a “force of nature” and a legend.

“He could always see the best in people and brought the best out in them, especially in other musicians,” the statement said. “Every musician I’ve ever seen him on a stage with was in awe of him. It was the Russell Batiste University and class was always in session.”

Jon Batiste said his cousin’s presence on the drums “was thunder. Tribal intensity and propulsion that I have never heard anyone come close to matching. He approached real drums like they were air drums..”

The New Orleans native and “Late Night With Stephen Colbert” bandleader tops all Grammy nominees with 11, spread across a dizzying array of genres.

Dec. 7, 2021

The music created by the Batiste family dynasty helped define the cultural legacy of New Orleans and continues to inspire people around the world, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement.

“The memory and genius of Russell Batiste will live on in the knowledge that the sounds he created brought joy and happiness to countless lives,” Cantrell added.

Batiste Jr. said in his interview with “The Jake Feinberg Show” that if he was playing a groove and it was causing someone to nod their head, that was some kind of communication or healing to him.

“I create music to try to communicate to the people in the world through song,” said Batiste. “Whatever you hear me doing, it comes from my soul.”

Batiste’s survivors include his father; mother Patricia Johnson and stepfather Newman Johnson; siblings Damon J. Batiste, Tasha Batiste, Lakisha Johnson, Monique Santiago, Merinda Bell, Tish Deemer, Eboni Batiste, Chanell Batiste, David Guys, Aaron Duncan, Jamal Batiste and Ryan Batiste; his children Christopher, Darryl and Nareal and grandchildren Elizabeth and Mariah.

The funky beat of musical New Orleans

Sept. 30, 2012

Archivist James Kim contributed to this report.