Art Neville, a founding member of iconic New Orleans acts The Meters and Neville Brothers, has passed away at the age of 81.
“It was peaceful,” Kent Sorrell, Neville’s longtime manager, told Nola.com. “He passed away at home with his adoring wife Lorraine by his side.”
Art, full name Arthur Lanon Neville, had been a staple of the New Orleans music world since the early 1950s, when he joined The Hawketts as a teenager and sang lead on their remake of country tune “Mardi Gras Mambo”, a recording that is still widely played during the annual celebration.
The Hawkettes [Art Neville on vocals/keys] – “Mardi Gras Mambo”
The Hawkettes became a staple of the New Orleans music scene for the next several years, playing gigs large and small all over the city and its surrounding areas. After a brief stint in the Navy, Art jumped right back into the New Orleans music world. In the mid-’60s, Art assembled a new group, The Neville Sounds, comprised of himself, Aaron, their brother Cyril Neville, bassist George Porter Jr., drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, and guitarist Leo Nocentelli.
When Cyril and Aaron left the group to pursue other projects, the remaining quartet of Art, George, Zig, and Leo rebranded themselves as The Meters. The Meters went on to become the house band for Allen Toussaint‘s record label, backing recordings by everyone from Lee Dorsey to Robert Palmer to Dr. John to Toussaint himself.
The Meters also recorded several lauded records of their own, including the eventual hits “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut”. The sparse, rhythmic interplay between the four members of The Meters is often cited as a blueprint for much of the funk music that came out of New Orleans in their wake.
[Photo: Jeffrey Dupuis – Neville Brothers Farewell Show, 2015]
The Meters were not the only iconic New Orleans band that Art Neville helped form. In the late 1970s, Art Neville, Aaron Neville, Cyril Neville, and Charles Neville took part in a recording session with The Wild Tchoupitoulas, a Mardi Gras Indians tribe led by their uncle, George Landry, a.k.a. Big Chief Jolly. The four brothers went on to form another foundational New Orleans group, the Neville Brothers, who continued to tour and perform together until disbanding in 2012. They also toured in support of some of the most notable rock and roll acts in history, including The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. In 2015, the Neville Brothers reunited once more for a farewell concert in New Orleans.
Below, you can listen to a prime late-’70s recording of Art and the Neville Brothers performing at Tipitina‘s and watch a video of them opening for the Grateful Dead in 1985:
The Neville Brothers – Pocky Jam – 11/26/77 – Tipitina’s
[Audio: FunkIt Blog]
The Neville Brothers – 12/31/85 – Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum [Opening for the Grateful Dead] – Full Video
Art would go on to share time between the Neville Brothers and The Meters. He was involved in The Meters’ reunion in 1989 (in which Russell Batiste Jr. replaced Zigaboo) and in the subsequent spinoff act The funky Meters, which featured Brian Stoltz on guitar.
After years of declining health, Neville had announced his retirement from music in December of 2018. Even in the year leading up Art’s retirement announcement, Neville—a.k.a. Poppa Funk—mostly stayed away from the stage. When The Meters were honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, Art was unable to make the ceremony and the accompanying performance. His son, Dumpstaphunk guitarist Ian Neville, attended the proceedings to accept the award on Art’s behalf.