R.I.P. Big Chief Black Feather

On Saturday, hundreds of mourners marched through the downtown streets to celebrate the life of Lionel Delpit (pictured above performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivalphoto credit- NOLA.com). Better known as Chief Black Feather, he passed away from on July 7, 2011 at the age of 54.

Despite his young age, Delpit was in icon in the downtown Mardi Gras Indian community. He came up in the ancient and complex traditions of the black Indians through the Yellow Pocahontas, the tribe led by the venerable Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana.

In the early 1990s, Delpit broke off from the Yellow Pocahontas, with the blessing of Montana, to form his own gang, which he dubbed Black Feather. The Black Feather masked in the three dimension style popularized by his mentor, which features complex geometric constructions composed of beads, rhinestones and other accoutrement of the downtown traditions. He was always among the prettiest to roam the 7th Ward on Mardi Gras morning.

Delpit’s suits tended to be lightweight to facilitate to intricate dance steps that are also part of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. He was known on the streets and in the Indian practices as spirited dancer who was often overcome by the power of the steps to communicate the deep passions involved in being a black Indian from New Orleans.

Delpit was also a well-respected singer of the tradition. Though he didn’t possess the booming voice of some of his peers, his intelligence and wit were evident whenever he took the lead in the improvisational call and response style.

In 1998, Delpit appeared on a landmark recording by a group called the Indians of the Nation. The recording was significant because it was the first time that chiefs from the uptown and downtown areas put aside their traditional rivalries and joined together in a unified Mardi Gras Indian group.

The album, called United We Stand, Divided We Fall, featured Delpit and Big Chief “Little” Charles Taylor from the White Cloud Hunters representing the downtown gangs and Big Chief Eugene “Peppy” Estabon (Golden Arrows), Big Chief Joe Prieur (Golden Arrows) and Big Chief Gerod “Roddy” Lewis (Black Eagles) from the uptown area along with Big Chief Smiley Ricks an Indian from the West Bank, on lead vocals. The response vocalists included well-known members of the Indian community include “Wild Man” ivory Holmes.

Delpit’s signature song, “Chief Black Feather” was one of the standout originals on the recording, which also featured Mardi Gras Indian standards including “Indian Red” and “Shallow Water.”

He is survived by Cassandra Woods Delpit; three sons, Lionel Crocket, Donnel and Lionel Delpit, III; a daughter, Dannel Angel Delpit-Lewis; his father, Charles Francis, Sr.; four grandchildren, Lionel, Cyrus, Cami and Kalise; two brothers, Charles Jr. and Russell Francis; his mother and father-in-law, Julia and Johnnie Wrench; and a host of other relatives.

(photo of Big Chief Black Feather courtesy of Spy Boy Stafford Agee)

 

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