American Routes Shortcuts: Remembering Art Neville
The Neville Brothers are famed for their fiery soul and funk, blues and ballads, Caribbean and Crescent City rhythms. They are Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril Neville. Art Neville passed away at 82 on July 22, 2019. He lived in the family home on Valence Street until his recent passing.
Art Neville: When I was born right there living in the 1000 block, my mother and my father and my grandmother were in the same house, and the house next to that was my great aunt. My Uncle Jolly lived on one side for a long time; it was a family thing, man, everybody looked out for the rest of the family. My mother and my Uncle Jolly, the one who was the Chief of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, they had a dance team together when they were kids. The Lindy Hop and all them hip dances, flipping over the back, through the legs, round the waist, and all that stuff.
Nick Spitzer: Art Neville was born in 1937 and, as the oldest, was first to become a professional musician, including a band called the Hawkettes, who had a local hit with Art singing “Mardi Gras Mambo” in 1954.
AN: The Hawkettes. I was in school, in high school. I don’t know how they found out where I lived but they needed a piano player. And they came up to the house and asked my mother and father could I go, and I asked them, “Let me play with them, please?” And they let me go. So, that was history.
NS: In the mid-1970s, the Mardi Gras Indian tradition of the Wild Tchoupitoulas led by a man they called Uncle Jolly, George Landry, would finally unite the Neville Brothers as a family band. Art Neville:
AN: We did the Wild Tchoupitoulas with my Uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, the Meters, and the Neville Brothers. It’s telling a story. It’s telling a story about the beginning of the Mardi Gras Indians that was a tribute to the real American Indians, going back all the way back to slavery times. I don’t remember that but I do remember. I didn’t see the slaves working in the fields and stuff like that, but I still was under some sort of oppression. Didn’t know what it was then.
NS: It was the old ritual traditions of the Indians that would bring together the Brothers on record for the first time. The Meters included Art and Cyril Neville, and they helped set the foundation with an emblematic song "Fiyo on the Bayou." It was a tune that became the title of the Neville Brothers’ first record. Here are Aaron and Charles Neville on the pleasures and powers of a family band.
Aaron Neville: The Neville Brothers actually started in ’77, and we have been together ever since. When we are on stage I can look at my brothers, I can see people in my family that ain’t here no more, and it’s like they’re part of me, I can see me, and I know they do the same.
Charles Neville: With us as brothers when we perform now on stage it is like the energy, the spiritual energy and the emotional energy as well as the musical energy is flowing through us on stage. From us it goes out into the audience, flows through the people, and then comes back to us. That is like the greatest feeling. I've played with other bands where the music was great and the feeling was great, but nothing like playing with the family.
NS: Brother Charles Neville passed in April 2018. Brothers Aaron and Cyril and the Neville families carry on we wish them well, including Art’s wife, Lorraine.
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