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Art Neville, one of the legendary musical Neville Brothers, dies at 81

Free Press wire reports | 7/26/2019, 6 a.m.
Art Neville, a member of a storied New Orleans musical family who performed with his siblings in The Neville Brothers ...
Mr. Neville Jeff Christensen/Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS

Art Neville, a member of a storied New Orleans musical family who performed with his siblings in The Neville Brothers band and founded the groundbreaking funk group The Meters, died Monday, July 22, 2019, at his home.

Nicknamed “Poppa Funk,” Mr. Neville was 81.

“Art ‘Poppa Funk’ Neville passed away peacefully this morning at home with his adoring wife, Lorraine, by his side,” his manager, Kent Sorrell, stated in an email. The cause of death was not immediately available but Mr. Neville had battled a number of health issues, including complications from back surgery.

“Louisiana lost an icon today,” Gov. John Bel Edwards stated in a news release.

The Neville Brothers spent some of their childhood in the now demolished Calliope housing project in New Orleans and some at a family home in uptown New Orleans. In a 2003 interview with Offbeat magazine, Mr. Neville described going to a Methodist church as a child where he had his first encounter with a keyboard.

“My grandmother used to clean the pulpit. She was in there cleaning it one day and I guess she was babysitting me ’cause I was in there with her. She went to one side and all of a sudden I was on the side where the organ was,” he said. “Something told me to turn it on. I reached up and pressed a bass note and it scared the daylights out of me!”

That experience kicked off a lifelong career as a keyboardist and vocalist.

The Neville Brothers — Art, Charles, Cyril and Aaron — started singing as kids but then went their separate ways in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1954, Art Neville was in high school when he sang lead on the Hawketts’ remake of a country song called “Mardi Gras Mambo.”

He told the public radio show “American Routes” how he was recruited by the Hawketts. “I don’t know how they found out where I lived,” he said in the interview. “But they needed a piano player. And they came up to the house and they asked my mother and father could I go.”

More than 60 years later, the song remains a staple of the Carnival season, but that longevity never translated into financial success for Mr. Neville, who received no money for it.

“It made me a big shot around school,” Mr. Neville said with a laugh during a 1993 interview with The Associated Press.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Neville was a founding member of The Meters, a pioneering American funk band that also included Cyril Neville, Leo Nocentelli (guitar), George Porter Jr. (bass) and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste (drums).

The Meters played as the house band for Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans soul classics and opened for the Rolling Stones’ tour of the Americas in 1975 and of Europe in 1976. They also became known for their session work with Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer and Patti LaBelle and recordings with Dr. John.

The Meters broke up in 1977, but members of the band have played together in groups such as the Funky Meters and the Meter Men. In more recent years, The Meters have reunited for various performances and often have been cited as an inspiration for other groups.