On the same weekend that Louis Armstrong is being honored at the Satchmo SummerFest in the French Quarter, family, friends and members of the music community said goodbye to New Orleans jazz trumpet player Lionel Ferbos.
Ferbos, who died July 19 at the age of 103, was 10 years younger than Armstrong, Mayor Mitch Landrieu pointed out Saturday morning during the visitation.
Ferbos’ funeral at Corpus Christi-Epiphany Catholic Church was a musical one that included singer John Boutte performing an a cappella version of the spiritual “Over Into Gloryland.” Gospel singers Dwight and Connie Fitch performed throughout the service, a row of trumpeters played “The Old Rugged Cross,” and Deacon John sang an impassioned version of “Ave Maria.”
The second-line that followed the service was a who’s who of New Orleans brass band musicians, with members of the Treme Brass Band, the Storyville Stompers, the Gentilly Brass Band and more.
The service focused on Ferbos the family man who followed his father into business and became a tinsmith. He was also one of the laborers who dug lagoons and built bridges in City Park.
Ferbos first picked up the trumpet at 15, though he was told he wouldn’t be able to play because he had asthma. He first played professionally in the 1930s and continued to play regularly until three months ago, when he became too weak to hold his horn.
He played in dance bands throughout his career, even late in life when he had a regular Saturday night gig at the Palm Court. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he learned to read music, which helped make him in demand. Later in his life, his music stand became iconic and part of his identity, not because he needed it for the songs he usually played but in case someone requested a song he didn’t remember.
“Lionel’s greatest contribution was he showed us the virtue of humility,” Deacon John said after the service.
It was a theme Archbishop Gregory Aymond touched on during his homily, quoting jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield as saying, “In New Orleans, ordinary people can be extraordinary on a daily basis.”
One of Ferbos’ biggest gigs was as part of the band in Vernel Bagneris’ musical “One Mo’ Time” in the late 1970s. When the show became a hit and moved to New York, where it played off-Broadway, Ferbos left it and remained at home.
“New Orleans was his big show,” Landrieu said.
This year’s Satchmo SummerFest has been dedicated to Ferbos. Photo tributes to him hang at the festival’s stages at the Old U.S. Mint, and many of the musicians have paid tribute to him during their sets.
According to festival producer Marci Schramm, “Sunday night, Kermit (Ruffins) and all his guest trumpeters will do something special saluting Ferbos during the ‘Trumpet Tribute,’ which closes the festival.”
Ferbos’ casket was greeted outside the church by a crowd ready for the second-line, which was led by members of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club. His surviving family — daughter Sylvia Schexnayder, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren — walked with the horse-drawn carriage that carried the casket.
The band struck up “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” to lead the procession away from the church and up St. Bernard Avenue almost to North Dorgenois Street, where the casket was moved to a hearse and taken away.
The musicians and dancers crossed the neutral ground and paraded back toward the church, breaking up at a bar, Seal’s Class Act.