Fans of Art Neville in his native New Orleans and around the world are beset with heavy hearts after news that “Poppa Funk” passed on Monday. As a member of The Meters and the Neville Brothers, Neville helped pioneer the signature funk grooves that emanated from the Big Easy.
Arthur Lanon Neville was born December 17, 1937, the same day as fellow New Orleans pianist and legend, James Booker. As a boy, Neville began playing piano and joined in playing music with his brothers. Booker, Professor Longhair, and others influenced them while embarking on their creative journey. At 17, Neville was a member of The Hawkettes as a vocalist, lending his voice to the 1954 hit “Mardi Gras Mambo,” perhaps the best known version of this song and which is still played annually during Carnival.
Military service disrupted Neville’s budding career, giving six years to the U.S. Navy before returning to music in the ‘60s. At this time, he joined in a band with his brothers Aaron, Cyril, and Charles, leading the band Art Neville and the Neville Sounds. The band featured bassist George Porter Jr., drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, saxophonist Gary Brown, and guitarist Leo Nocentelli. The group served as the house band for producer Allen Toussaint, backing the vocals of Labelle, Dr. John, Robert Palmer and more.
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By the late ‘60s, the band was reformed as The Meters, providing a funk style that became a New Orleans staple. The band was popular enough to attract the attention of Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones. In fact, McCartney invited the band to play at his release party for the 1975 album “Venus and Mars,” culminating to a commercially available live recording. Due to internal struggles and other issues, the band broke up in 1977.
Soon after, Neville rejoined his brothers Aaron, Cyril, and Charles as the Neville Brothers, touring around the nation and the world while dropping a handful of acclaimed records. The group dropped their last set in 2004, but continued to record well into the 2000s. They officially stopped touring in 2012 but Art continued to play well into his 70s despite his declining health.
According to reports, Neville passed with his wife Lorraine by his bedside.
Art Neville was 81.