Dominic Massa / EyewitnessNews
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NEW ORLEANS -It was fitting that Lionel Ferbos' funeral Mass on Saturday morning was held at Corpus Christi/Epiphany Church in the Seventh Ward.

It's the historic Creole neighborhood where the legendary trumpeter grew up and the church where he spent many Sunday mornings at Mass, even after gigs the night before.

As Archbishop Gregory Aymond reminded the hundreds of people who listened to his homily, Ferbos was a man of faith, of devotion to his family, his city and most of all to his music.

When Ferbos died July 19, as the city's oldest performing musician at age 103, headlines the world over celebrated his longevity. Friends say he never lost his love for performing, learning and living.

'When he was 101, he turned to me and said, 'There's still so much I want to do and still so much I want to see,'' said friend Al Kennedy, a Ferbos friend and music educator and historian.

Kennedy, who spoke Saturday before the Mass, was with Mr. Ferbos during his final days, including at his 103rd birthday party at The Palm Court Jazz Cafe, just two days before his death.

For years, Kennedy also organized an annual birthday card and letter-writing campaign for Ferbos, encouraging fans and friends to send birthday wishes. In his remarks, Kennedy said that up until just the past few years, Ferbos would respond to each letter or card with a thank you note.

'He was a person who got through this world and didn't change. He was kind, gentle, grateful. All of those qualities that drew people to him he carried with him until the day he died.'

Mayor Mitch Landrieu also honored Ferbos, saying at the funeral that while the musician attained international fame, his heart was in New Orleans and this was his stage, for more than a century.

Ferbos' great-granddaughter Leah Labat brought many in the audience to tears when she read a poem she composed for her 'Paw Paw.'

'His favorite song was 'When You're Smiling.' The lyrics suited him well.

Lionel smiled at everyone from night clubs to sermons in front of church bells.

Like any musician, he had fame, fans, and glamour. But, this man had something more. He had compassion, love, and honor.'

Ferbos' sendoff Saturday was most notable in that it included one of the city's most celebrated traditions, a jazz funeral and second line. It featured trumpeter James Andrews, Kermit Ruffins, members of the Treme Brass Band and other groups, as well as the Black Men of Labor. The procession featured symbols and sounds of the city Mr. Ferbos loved, and showed the love that so many in the city have for him. That included many of the performers who said they were inspired by Ferbos.

'He taught them never to stop,' said singer Charmaine Neville. 'Because this music, 500 years from now, I want people to still be talking about this music. And he was a person that would make sure that young people kept that going.'

Deacon John Moore, the longtime local singer and bandleader who is also the president of the local musicians' union, performed a stirring rendition of 'Ave Maria' near the end of the funeral Mass. Moore called Ferbos a musical treasure whose contributions to the city's culture will live on.

'I'm going to miss that beautiful smile and his legacy,' Moore said. 'He was a guy who fit what Jesus was talking about: 'Blessed are the humble for they shall be exalted.''

'God chose him to do something special and that's why he let him stay here a little while longer, enough for us to really enjoy what Lionel Ferbos was all about and he was all about New Orleans.'


Here is the full text of the poem by Ferbos' great-granddaughter Leah Labat:

My Buddy Lionel: Gentleman, Genius, and Grandfather
by Leah M. Labat

One hundred and three years ago, a beautiful boy arrives.

His rosy cheeks and bright eyes brought joy to his parents' lives.

His laughter was darling, and his smile delivered reminiscence

like a candle piercing the darkness to remind all of innocence.

As this boy grew up, he was sweet, thoughtful, and gentle.

Even the Tin Man would say, 'He was often sentimental.'

In the time of the Great Depression, no one knew what was in store.

His parents wanted to give Lionel everything. They had nothing to worry about. The future held treasures galore.

Lionel wanted to be a great trumpeter, and play music for generations to come.

His physicians stated he couldn't play trumpet. He had Asthma. It couldn't be done.

With a strong heart and a powerful will, Lionel blew on his trumpet until his soul had its fill.

He baffled the doctors, and brought music to Treme. He even tutored young musicians who still play to this day.

His favorite song was 'When You're Smiling.' The lyrics suited him well.

Lionel smiled at everyone from night clubs to sermons in front of church bells.

Like any musician, he had fame, fans, and glamour. But, this man had something more. He had compassion, love, and honor.

He was a dapper, Creole gentleman with his pressed suits, shined shoes, and cap.

He had a balance of being famous in one hand while telling stories to his children on his lap.

As a man of the world, he traveled everywhere from Germany to Niagara Falls.

He signed every single thank you letter to the birthday cards that flutter upon his walls.

He was a humble, honest, hard working man who was an artisan with music and steel.

He could fix a rooftop in a heartbeat while making music that you could feel.

As a centurion, he survived many wars and media changes. He's been in a Bentley to a horse and buggy.

He knew what it meant to be an entertainer. He played in the rain, the cold, and when it was muggy.

Throughout his years and accomplishments, he had a lovely wife and two wonderful children.

Through those children, he had descendants who are blessed with talents that were bestowed through him.

In his winter years, he remained modest as he was pampered to his heart's every wish.

He would relax in his bed and practice music as he ate hot meals from a fine China dish.

Looking into the eyes of my grandfather, a lifetime of love and care would glow.

I remember helping him put on his jacket, and carry his trumpet for his show.

True to the soul, when I would ask him, 'What do you want, since you've been through it all?'

He'd smile and ask me sweetly, 'Can I have a condensed milk, nectar creme snowball?'

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