Neville Brothers’ Charles Neville Dies at 79

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The Neville Brothers (Charles, 2nd from left)

The second oldest member of the legendary New Orleans quartet The Neville Brothers, saxophonist Charles Neville, died today (April 26) of pancreatic cancer. A longtime resident of Massachusetts, where he died, he was 79.

Charles’ death was confirmed by Aaron Neville, the third oldest brother. (See below.) The other members of the group were Art Neville, the eldest, and Cyril Neville, the youngest sibling. Together they became synonymous with the sound of Crescent City R&B and funk, for many years closing out the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Charles was also the father of Charmaine Neville, a popular New Orleans jazz singer.

Watch the Neville Brothers perform “Yellow Moon” on Austin City Limits

Born in 1938, Charles was a co-founder of the Neville Brothers, which joined forces in 1976 after its members had already had some success individually. Charles began playing saxophone at age 12 and formed a band called Turquoise with his older brother Art while they were both teens. Charles, Art and Aaron also played with the Hawketts and by the mid-‘50s Charles was a professional touring musician, accompanying such blues and R&B stars as B.B. King, James  Brown, Ray Charles and Bobby Bland, as well as hometown favorites like Allen Toussaint, Ernie K-Doe and Huey “Piano” Smith.

Related: Brother Aaron Neville released a new album in 2016

Charles Neville

Following a stint in the service in the late ’50s, Charles returned to playing music, but ran into trouble, spending more than three years in prison on drug charges. He returned to music again after his release, backing various R&B singers, then formed a group with Aaron and Cyril called the Soul Machine. Teaming up with a Mardi Gras Indian troupe in New Orleans, they performed as the Wild Tchoupitoulas, recording an album in 1976.

From that experience, the Neville Brothers arose, and the group released its debut album on Capitol Records in 1978. A 1988 release, Uptown, featured such guests as Keith Richards and Carlos Santana, as the Neville Brothers were increasingly embraced by the rock audience.

The Neville Brothers released 10 studio albums and five live titles in all, as well as several compilations. They disbanded formally in 2012. Charles also played with a group called Diversity, beginning in 1991.

Neville’s three brothers survive Charles.

Watch the Neville Brothers, with Carlos Santana, performing “It Ain’t No Use” in 1988

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