Art Neville, the singer/keyboardist and co-founder of New Orleans funk standard-bearers The Meters and Neville Brothers has died at age 81. Neville died Monday (July 22) after years of declining health, with no cause of death available at press time. The singer’s longtime manager, Kent Sorrell, confirmed the news in a statement, adding that Neville “passed away peacefully this morning at home with his wife, Lorraine, by his side.”
Neville was the voice of the iconic Carnival season anthem “Mardi Gras Mambo,” which he recorded at 17 in 1954 with the group the Hawketts at a local radio station. After returning from a stint in the Navy, he recorded a number of songs that became late 1950s and ’60s R&B classics, including “Cha Dooky Do” and “All These Things.”
Born Arthur Lanon Neville on Dec. 17, 1937, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Neville founded his family’s eponymous band in 1976 with three of his brothers, Aaron, Cyril and late sibling Charles, who died in 2018. Over the course of five-plus decades, the Neville family became the north star of the New Orleans funk scene, spinning off a series of related family bands and shepherding a long list of future funk stalwarts into the mainstream, including bassist George Porter Jr. (Funky Meters, Runnin’ Pardners, New Orleans Social Club), drummer Joseph “Zihaboo” Modeliste (Dr. John, Keith Richards, Professor Longhair) and guitarist Leo Nocentelli (Robert Palmer, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett).
The Meters left an indelible mark on the R&B/funk scene with such classic tracks as “Sophisticated Cissy,” “Fire on the Bayou,” “Here Comes the Meter Man,” “Look-Ka Py Py,” “Cissy Strut” and “Hey Pocky A-Way.” After The Meters split in the late 1970s, he and his siblings regrouped in 1977 as The Neville Brothers, hitting their peak in 1989 with the Daniel Lanois-produced gold-selling Yellow Moon, which won a Grammy for best pop instrumental in 1989 for “Healing Chant”; Neville was a three-time Grammy winner, including a 2018 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Neville Brothers closed out the main stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for many years, shutting down their hometown party on the final Sunday with Art posted up behind his keyboard, flashing the Star Trek Vulcan “live long and prosper” hand sign, according to Nola.com. He continued to tour until late 2018 with the Funky Meters, his 24-year collaboration with Porter, Jr. and guitarist Breian Stoltz, with his nephew, Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk, Neville Brothers), filling in on keyboards during recent live shows.
Neville, known as “Poppa Funk,” announced his retirement from music in December 2018, thanking fans for “all the wonderful years of support and for letting us share our music with the world.”
Listen to “Yellow Moon” below.