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ART NEVILLE,
1937-2019

Art Neville, the New Orleans funk pioneer who co-founded The Meters and The Neville Brothers after years of being a session musician, died Monday in New Orleans. He was 81.

His nephew Ivan Neville and manager Kent Sorrell announced his death,  saying his died at his home in. New Orleans. His health had been in decline for many years and he had suffered from complications following back surgery.

“Art Neville a legendary musician known for creating some of the most distinguished R&B and soul music to come out of New Orleans,” Recording Academy  President/CEO Neil Portnow said. “As a founding member of the Neville Brothers and the Meters, Art contributed his soulful voice and piano expertise to each group, creating a unique sound inspired by New Orleans' profound culture.”

The keyboardist known as Poppa Funk, he made his recording debut in 1954 when he sang lead on The Hawketts’ version of “Mardi Gras Mambo.” After a six-year stint in the Navy he returned to New Orleans and recorded multiple R&B singles for Specialty, among them "Cha Dooky Doo" and "All These Things."

In the mid-1960s he formed Art Neville & the Neville Sounds that included the musicians he would form the Meters with—bassist George Porter Jr., guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste. Saxophonist Gary Brown was the fifth member.

After Brown left the band, Allen Toussaint hired them to be the house band at his recording studio. Among the acts the band backed were The Pointer Sisters, Dr. John, Robert Palmer and Lee Dorsey. Separately, his compositions have been recorded by Rick James, Rufus, Derek Trucks and others plus jazz musicians such as Grant Green, John Scofield and Idris Muhammad.

They took on the name The Meters in 1968 and started releasing their own singles, "Sophisticated Cissy" and "Cissy Strut" among them, that would become the foundation of New Orleans funk. Neville's organ was generally the playful element in their songs, a counterpoint to Nocentelli's scratchy guitar and Modeliste's syncopated rhythms.

They recorded seven albums between 1969 and 1977 for Josie and Reprise that featured their originals that would become some of the city’s best-known anthems, "Hey Pocky A-Way," "Fire on the Bayou" and "People Say." Island issued a compilation of their Josie sides in 1974.

A lack of commercial success led to The Meters going their separate ways. Neville’s first project was a recording of his uncle, Big Chief George “Jolly” Landry, The Wild Tchoupitoulas, which led to him partnering with his brothers Art, Charles, Aaron and Cyril in The Neville Brothers.

They played a mélange of funk, R&B, Mardi Gras Indian music and soul music, recording originals and covering the like of Bob Dylan, do-wop, the Great American Songbook, Sam Cooke, Steve Miller and songs originally recorded by The Meters. They had a fan base that included The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed and Linda Ronstadt.

Recording for A&M, they peaked commercially with 1989’s Yellow Moon, which was certified gold, and released their final studio album in 2004. Their last concert was at the Hollywood Bowl in 2012. Charles Neville died in April 2018.

Aaron Neville posted a statement on Facebook that read in part, “My big brother Artie/AKA Poppa Funk was the patriarch of the Neville tribe, big chief, a legend from way way back, my first inspiration. I would try and copy his style, his high natural tenor that only he could do.

“From the park bench in the Calliope to Valence St. in the 13th ward to parts unknown we brought our Music and inspiration to the world stage. I know he’s in heaven with Mommee and Poppee, Big Chief, Cookie, Brother Charlie, Mac/Dr John, Allen Toussaint and James Booker. So many great New Orleans musicians and singers are in the heavenly band now. I know they’re accepting him with open arms so he can take his rightful place as one of the greats.”

Neville and Porter started performing as The Funky Meters in 1989 and, beginning in 2000, The Meters periodically reunited.

Neville won two Grammy Awards and the Meters received the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. The Meters have also made the final ballot multiple times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In December, a week after his 81st birthday, Neville announced that he was retiring from music due to mobility issues.

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