As the hearse bearing Camille Bob Sr.’s coffin arrived outside Holy Ghost Catholic Church Saturday afternoon, a man walked past and offered a proclamation.
“Nobody cry,” he said. “Nobody cry. He would have wanted us to be happy.”
From the opening bars of the processional, the funeral Mass reflected that.
“God has smiled on me,” the vocalist sang while the celebrants and pallbearers accompanied the draped coffin up the center aisle. “He has set me free. He’s been good to me.”
Throughout the service, people sang along, clapped acclamation, raised their hands in praise.
Bob, an Arnaudville native known to music lovers as Lil’ Bob, entertained listeners as near as the Southern Club, the Evangeline Club and Toby’s Lounge in Opelousas and as scattered as everyone who’s watched the movie “Bull Durham,” in which the band Los Lobos covered his classic party song “I Got Loaded.”
The 77-year-old singer died Monday at Opelousas General Health System. In recent years he lived at Senior Village, where people who attended the funeral said they’d visited him often.
The cover of the program for his service carried a vintage photo of Bob singing, his eyes lifted toward an overhead studio microphone. He appeared ever tuneful, optimistic and handsome.
Opelousas Mayor Reggie Tatum told worshipers the singer looked like a young Sidney Poitier in such publicity photos. Like others, Tatum lamented that Bob and his band The Lollipops didn’t get the recognition or money they deserved.
But, the Rev. Jaison Mangalath said during his homily, “he brought our culture, our aspirations and our love for music beyond the boundaries of Opelousas.”
Because of that, the mayor pledged he’ll persuade the City Council to declare Bob’s birthday, Nov. 8, as Lil’ Bob and The Lollipops Day within the city limits.
“It’s the least we can do, to give him that,” Tatum said.
The musicians who offered piano, saxophone and vocal accompaniment at the funeral said they performed spirited renditions of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “Going Up Yonder” and other sacred songs out of affection for a man who gave them so much.
“I really learned how to play with him, in all kinds of keys” said pianist and teacher Steven Smith, who performed with Bob in live venues after the singer’s recording days had ended.
He and others said they had to keep up with a repertory of more than 200 songs Bob knew by heart and performed on demand. They praised him as a people person who would whip out any one of those tunes whenever a patron who’d requested it once entered the door.
St. Landry Parish District Attorney Earl Taylor, who used to play saxophone with Bob on occasion, said “people enjoyed dancing to his music because he was always fun.”
He added that Bob’s band played for many white audiences and with white musicians before integration became the law. “It didn’t matter what color you were,” Taylor said. “It was all about, ‘Can you play?'”
That said, Lollipops saxophonist Paul Wiltz remembered playing one evening at a club that refused entry to a young black man and his date.
The singer asked his band, “How do y’all feel about that?” Wiltz said. The musicians agreed to cut the gig short. “We picked up our gear and left. We didn’t get paid.
“Bob was a person of integrity,” he said. “We played music for a purpose. We all said he should’ve gotten more than he got, but we were playing music for the love of music.”
Wiltz added, “I had some wonderful years with Bob.”
Then he carried his sax out of the church and to the repast at the Opelousas Civic Center, where he planned to jam for hours with others whose love for the man and the music delivered them there.