Hundreds turn out to bid farewell to Black Feather Big Chief Lionel Delpit
Every tambourine in town seemed to shake in reverence on Saturday as family, friends, neighbors and fellow Indians said goodbye to Lionel Delpit, the beloved big chief of the Black Feather Mardi Gras Indian tribe.
Two white horses pulled the body of Delpit, who died July 7 at age 54, along St. Claude Avenue in a windowed carriage. The black cloth draping the casket bore a round patch of beadwork in the center like a presidential seal.
“Uptown, downtown, he was well known and respected everywhere he went,” Stacy Banks said as he watched the funeral procession pass by. “He was a good role model for the Indians.”
In front of and behind the carriage, the street seemed to dance with the brilliant pink, blue, orange, green, purple and yellow feathers of Mardi Gras Indian suits.
“He was a pretty, pretty Indian,” said Mary Moore, paying Delpit one of the best compliments for an Indian, who vie to see who is “prettiest.” Moore said she remembered meeting Delpit as a young girl.
Delpit, who was known for his soul-stirring singing voice, his dance steps and his dazzling three-dimensional suits, was also remembered for his willingness to help others, even strangers, and for his devotion to community and family.
“That’s what kept us out of trouble— those costumes,” said Bernard “Bunny” Hingle, a longtime friend who helped sew each of Delpit’s suits.
Hundreds of people, young and old, masked and unmasked, turned out for Delpit’s final march, including numerous big chiefs from other tribes.
“That’s the good thing about a jazz funeral,” said Charlie Tenner, spy boy of the 9th Ward Comanche Hunters Indian tribe. “Everybody comes together as one.”
As the procession turned onto Frenchmen Street, the carriage came to a stop in front of the home of Delpit’s father. Neighbors spilled onto front porches as the crowd squeezed into the narrow street with chants of “Chief Black Feather” and a stirring rendition of the anthem “Indian Red.”
The sun shone brightly as the procession continued down Frenchmen Street. Marchers dabbed sweaty faces with towels and brought water to those wearing the heavy Indian suits.
The carriage stopped again at Hunter’s Field, a traditional Indian gathering spot, near North Claiborne and St. Bernard avenues, and the crowd found a welcome respite from the sun under the overpass.
Attendants removed Delpit’s casket from the carriage and hoisted it in the air three times to loud cheers — “toasting” the casket before “cutting the body loose.”
The sky grew dark and the wind picked up as the casket was placed in a waiting white hearse, which would take it to a spot next to Delpit’s mother at a West Bank cemetery. As the hearse inched through the dense gathering, people reached out to touch the car, shouting final farewells.
Then the rain began to fall, but the second line continued to the beats of the Stooges Brass Band.
“He’s going home to meet the Lord,” Hingle said. “He did his thing here.”
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