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Art Neville of the Meters and the Neville Brothers Dies at 81

Art Neville, one of the key figures of New Orleans music as a member of the Meters and later the Neville Brothers, died Monday. He was 81.

Neville’s manager, Kent Sorrell, confirmed the death. “It was peaceful,” Sorrell told Nola.com. “He passed away at home with his adoring wife Lorraine by his side. He toured the world how many times, but he always came home to Valence Street.”

The cause of death was not immediately released, but Neville had retired from music last year, suffering from complications from back surgery and other health issues. Although he had performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as recently as 2017 (pictured above), Neville was not able to attend the ceremony last year when the Meters received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy.

When Neville announced his retirement in December of last year, it was on the 100th birthday of one of his piano-playing heroes, Professor Longhair.

With the keyboard-playing Art as one-fourth of the sibling outfit, the Neville Brothers reached a commercial peak with the 1987 release of “Yellow Moon,” atmospherically produced by Daniel Lanois, which included the Grammy-winning instrumental “Healing Chant.” From their first album in 1978 through their swan song in 2004, the Neville Brothers were a popular fixture among the jam-band rock crowd as well as aficionados of funk, and, along with Dr. John, the popular face of New Orleans music, traditionally closing out Jazzfest every year.

But it was with the group that preceded and eventually followed the Neville Brothers, the Meters, that the musician had his greatest impact. The group, which lasted from 1964-77 (and reunited for selected dates in the 2010s), was considered an essential pioneer of funk and recorded such popular favorites as “Cissy Strut” and  “Fire On The Bayou.”

As a pianist, the New Orleans-born Neville was influenced by such Louisiana progenitors as Professor Longhair. He was still in high school when he had a hit as the lead singer of the Hawkettes with “Mardi Gras Mambo” in the late ’50s. More than six decades later, the song continues to be a Carnival anthem.

In 1962, after he returned from a stint in the Navy, he formed the Neville Sounds, which eventually transformed into the Meters.

Neville later won a Grammy in 1996 for best rock instrumental with the Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute “SRV Shuffle,” in collaboration with Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and Jimmie Vaughan & Robert Cray.

Among Neville’s children is Arthel Neville, a news anchor for Fox News and a fixture of the E! network and “Extra” in the 1990s.

Art’s death follows that of brother Charles Neville in April 2018. The surviving members of the Neville Brothers are Aaron and Cyril. Neville’s death is just the latest in a series of losses for the New Orleans community after the recent passings of Dr. John and Dave Bartholomew.

 

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