By the start of Mrs. K-Doe’s funeral service Saturday morning, the neighborhood church on Ursulines Avenue had exceeded its standing-room-only capacity. A police officer turned away late arrivals, who pooled on the sidewalk to await the subsequent second-line.
Mrs. K-Doe, the widow of New Orleans rhythm & blues singer Ernie K-Doe and his equal in the annals of eccentricity, died of a heart attack early Mardi Gras morning.
She spent the decade preceding her husband’s death in 2001 rescuing him from alcoholism and returning him to the stage. After his death, she transformed the Mother-in-Law Lounge, the North Claiborne Avenue nightclub named for his biggest hit, into a community center and shrine to him.
Indefatigable, unflappable and generous with her meager resources, she looked after a wide cross-section of the city’s have’s and have not’s. She served her red beans to everyone from veteran R&B singers to tattooed Bywater hipsters. She welcomed all save the occasional New York Times reporter who got under her skin.
On Friday, dozens of friends and admirers mingled in the tiki garden she installed next to the Lounge. Amid claw-foot tubs and toilets painted purple, green and gold, they traded stories, ate finger sandwiches and queued up patiently to view her body as it lay in state inside.
Hundreds of people would file past her white, glass-topped casket of 16-gauge steel. She was resplendent in an ankle-length white gown trimmed with silver sequins. Befitting the widow of the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Universe, Mrs. K-Doe also wore a tiara and grasped a scepter in her left hand.
Her casket, trimmed with red rose petals, sat under an air-conditioning duct decorated with second-line umbrellas. In the adjacent barroom, the mannequin of her late husband wore a white suit that matched her dress.
On Saturday morning the casket faced a capacity crowd inside St. James Methodist Church. New Orleans City Council president Jackie Clarkson spoke about rewarding “little old lady” campaign volunteers with late-night trips to the Mother-in-Law Lounge.
“She inspired people,” Clarkson said of Mrs. K-Doe. “One on one, you didn’t realize you were being inspired…
“We’ve met a lot of people. We’ve never met another Antoinette. She’ll never be replaced.”
Deacon John Moore, alone with an acoustic guitar, belted “One More River to Cross.” Gospel vocalist Jo “Cool” Davis stood on his artificial leg and wailed an uptempo spiritual; the church band, featuring James Andrews on trumpet, joined in as the congregation rose and clapped in time.
Porgy Jones serenaded the casket with a delicate flugelhorn solo. Congregants sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” as they filed past Mrs. K-Doe one last time.
Outside was controlled chaos as the jazz funeral procession slowly formed up in the northbound lane of Ursulines Avenue. Out front were two dozen members of a brass ensemble drawn from the Treme and Red Hot brass bands, among others.
A pair of Mardi Gras Indians, in full feathered regalia, joined the mix. So did at least two grown women dressed as Baby Dolls, in honor of the Treme Mardi Gras marching organization that Mrs. K-Doe helped revive.
In the lead was an antique-style, glass-walled hearse carriage pulled by two white mules. Once Mrs. K-Doe’s coffin was stowed inside, the marchers strutted past onlookers crowding the narrow strip of Ursulines neutral ground. Rain threatened, but held off.
A mule named Christmas pulled a passenger carriage, the sort that normally hauls tourists around the French Quarter. Riding in the front row, wearing his permanent smile, was the mannequin of Ernie K-Doe. A human attendant held the mannequin’s top hat in place through a tight U-turn at North Prieur.
“I ain’t never seen anything like that in my life,” noted one woman as she watched from the street.
Southbound now, the parade passed under the North Claiborne overpass. Brass band jazz bounced off the artificial cement sky as revelers danced and neighborhood regulars watched, bemused.
The march continued to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. The party would resume with a repast at the Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl.