Art Neville, a founding member of both the Neville Brothers and influential Funk band The Meters, died at the age of 81 on Monday (July 22). According to reports, the New Orleans passed peacefully with his wife by his side.
The keyboardist, singer and songwriter known as “Poppa Funk” was born December 17, 1937. Growing up, he loved doo-wop and the pianism of such New Orleans giants as Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. During high school, in 1953, he joined a group called the Hawketts. Just a year later, at age 17, he sang lead vocals on the Hawketts’ version of a country tune called “Mardi Gras Mambo.” It became a carnival classic.
Neville soon joined the Navy, and served in the late 1950s and early ’60s. But he didn’t give up his musical dreams: Even during his time in the service, he recorded a string of R&B singles. By the middle of the 1960s, he led a band called Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, a group which legendary New Orleans producer, pianist, singer and songwriter Allen Toussaint tapped as house musicians for his label, Minit. Soon, the Neville Sounds were renamed the Meters.
As the late Toussaint told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in 1988, Art Neville was “a natural leader because every time he’s ever put a band together, it’s been very special and very unique. And the Meters was no exception, of course.”
In 2018, Neville and The Meters were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammys. As a performer, Neville, despite his declining health over the years, continued to play shows well into his 70s. With The Meters, Neville recorded eight studio albums and 10 with the Neville Brothers.
Neville’s brother, Charles, passed in 2018. There are two remaining brothers of the quartet, Aaron and Cyril.
Rest Powerfully in Peace, Art Neville.
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