Larry Bannock, Big Chief of the Golden Star Hunters Mardi Gras Indian tribe, died April 30 of a heart attack. He was 66.
Bannock grew up in Gert Town and was considered a virtuoso in the art of Indian beading and performance. He was a registered master craftsman and was one of the first Indians to receive a grant to teach the sewing tradition.
In the 1980s, one of his Indian suits was selected by the Smithsonian Institution to represent New Orleans Carnival in an exhibit that toured the world. He also traveled widely demonstrating the art.
The always-quotable Bannock was a past president of the Mardi Gras Indian Council. His well-articulated thoughts on the Mardi Gras Indian tradition were broadcast on news shows, including “48 Hours” and the “MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour,” and printed in numerous local and national publications.
Bannock, chief of his tribe since 1979, told The New York Times in 1995: “They say Rex is ruler (on Mardi Gras), but not in the 17th Ward ’cause I’m the king here.”
Bannock could be politically outspoken as well. In a 2012 piece titled “Outsiders Prey on Gert Town,” Bannock told the Louisiana Weekly: “This community has fattened more frogs to feed snakes over the years. We pay taxes but we don’t seem to get much in return.”
The hand-sewn, beaded patches adorning his Indian suits told the stories of his people and their history. One patch called “The Flight of the Eagles” pictured a Native American brave grasping the feathers of a bird on a mountaintop while three other birds fly overhead. He explained the three circling birds represented “the old uptown Indian gangs” — the White Eagles, the Black Eagles and the Golden Eagles.
“Indians had to get eagle feathers,” Bannock said. “He had to fight the eagle and not kill him because eagles are sacred.”
Bannock and the Golden Star Hunters were regular performers at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival dating back to its second year in 1971.
He could always be counted on to make provocative comments, such as dedicating a song to “those boys who graduated from the Louisiana State Penitentiary” or scoring points on another chief — “He and I don’t see eye to eye, but I still say I’m a legend.”
Bannock’s last appearance at Jazz Fest was just three days before he died. He displayed his playful, irreverent side with his introduction to the hymn, “Down by the Riverside.”
“You know the saying about God looking after babies and damn fools? Mardi Gras Indians are damn fools,” he said with a sardonic chuckle.
He is survived by his uncles Louis “Knockie” Williams and Clarence “Butts” Williams and many cousins, nieces and nephews.
A funeral will be held at noon Saturday at the City of Love Church, 8601 Palmetto St., New Orleans. Visitation will begin at 11 a.m. Burial will be in the Musicians’ Tomb in St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery at a date to be announced.
The original post of this story spelled the author’s name wrong. The Advocate regrets the error.