Russell Batiste Jr., the celebrated New Orleans drummer whose rhythms powered such bands as the Funky Meters and Vida Blue, has died. He was 57.

Batiste’s death of a heart attack on Saturday was confirmed by his brother Damon Batiste, according to

“He was like a son to me,” Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli said Sunday, shortly after learning of Russell’s death. “I didn’t know how much he meant to me until now. It’s a helluva loss to New Orleans music and culture.”

For decades, Russell served as a pillar of the New Orleans music community. The long list of bands with which he performed includes George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ PardnersDumpstaphunkBoneramaPapa Grows FunkRobbie RobertsonMaceo Parker, and plenty more, in addition to his own Russell Batiste & Friends.

Having played with everyone from Harry Connick Jr. to Phish keyboardist Page McConnell in Vida Blue, Batiste developed a sterling reputation for his ferocity behind the drum kit. Despite praise even from the likes of Mick Jagger, Batiste remained committed to his local New Orleans community and often stuck close to home. Rather than touring around the world, he preferred to play his local haunts with friends and family.

“He never was interested in accolades and money,” Damon Batiste said. “He wanted to make the music right. Russell loved New Orleans more than anything. He just wanted to be at the Maple Leaf Bar and Le Bon Temps Roule. Russell should have been playing stadiums, not music clubs. You don’t have talent like that in a bar.”

Related: “New Orleans Will Not Be The Same Without You”: Musicians Remember Russell Batiste Jr. [Photos/Videos]

Born David Russell Batiste Jr. on December 12th, 1965 into a large musical family, his music education started early as he learned multiple instruments as a young child. While he was still in grade school, Russell and Damon joined their father’s band The Gladiators, later morphing into the Batiste Brothers Band. To avoid confusion with his father, David Batiste, Russell began using his middle name.

In 1978, Russell played his first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with a group called Young Gifted & Black. In the 1980s, he rose to prominence as the drummer for a latter-era incarnation of The Meters, as well as a later offshoot dubbed The Funky Meters which featured George Porter Jr., Brian Stoltz, and Art Neville.

For the next four decades, Russell served as a foundation of the vibrant New Orleans music community. Days ahead of this year’s Jazz Fest, he linked up with his cousin Jon Batiste when the former Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader played a surprise pop-up show at the Maple Leaf. Back in August, he marched as part of a drum line near the Maple Leaf as part of the Krewe of  O.A.K.’s Mid-Summer Mardi Gras Parade. “That was his last parade,” Damon Batiste said.

Up until his death, Russell Batiste & Friends performed every Sunday in September at Le Bon Temps Roule. Just last week, he went to support his alma mater St. Augustine at a high school football game, joining other members of the class of ’83 in the bleachers, per He was slated to perform three sets later this month throughout NOLA Funk Fest with his own band, the Gladiators, and with Nocentelli.

New Orleans staple Papa Mali wrote on social media, “Thank you Russell, for keeping it real, for the many laughs, for the deep, musical knowledge, that you so freely shared, w everyone in your orbit, encouraging and educating, conducting and orchestrating, subdividing and syncopating, always in time, in the pocket, in the groove, in the moment.”