In New Orleans, friends respond as virus claims a Zulu king

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Nicole Hammond-Crowden, center, her husband Bernard Crowden, and aunt Lori Adams, wear masks as they listen to a reading broadcast from a cell phone through a microphone, by a relative who could not attend, at the funeral for her father Larry Hammond, who died from the coronavirus, in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS – If he had died in a normal time, Larry Arthur Hammond would have had a funeral befitting a Zulu king, with more than a thousand mourners in the church and marching in second-line parades celebrating a mainstay of New Orleans Mardi Gras royalty.

Instead, only 10 people were allowed into the funeral parlor, his widow grieving from a socially distanced chair while family and friends strained to hear through cell phones on speaker mode. Hundreds of close-knit members of his century-old parade group and African American fraternity were prevented from honoring one of their leaders, weeks after he died of COVID-19.

It seemed cruel, how this virus that summoned them to mourn was keeping them apart. The masks his wife and daughter wore to protect each other muffled their weeping. Nobody could see a smile; nobody could hug.

“Only having 10 family members was so hurting to me because we have such a large, loving family,” said his wife, Lillian Hammond.

But improvisation is integral to the jazz culture of New Orleans, and improvise they did.

After the funeral, scores of cars and trucks passed the Hammond home as the family sat in chairs on their front lawn, still dressed in their funeral attire. A police escort led the procession.

Honking, waving and calling to his family, drivers and passengers showed their respect and love for the 2007 king of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a retired postal worker and Air Force veteran who tutored, mentored and provided Christmas presents through Omega Psi Phi.

“I was so pleased. I was amazed. I was excited and not just excited for my family, but excited for Larry, because their procession, that motorcade was him,” Lillian Hammond said.