Art Neville, New Orleans Funk Icon, Retiring

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Aaron, Art, Charles and Cyril Neville-The Neville Brothers in a publicity photo

Art Neville, synonymous with New Orleans funk and R&B via his six-decade run with The Meters and The Neville Brothers, is calling it quits. In a press release issued on Dec. 19—the 100th anniversary of the birth of New Orleans piano legend Professor Longhair—the keyboardist, who turned 81 on Dec. 17, said that he would no longer make music.

Neville, whose health issues in recent years have included complications from back surgery undergone in 2001, has not performed publicly in more than a year, according to the press release.

Known as “Poppa Funk,” Art Neville first came to the public’s attention in 1954 via the recording “Mardi Gras Mambo,” recorded with the Hawketts, a New Orleans group he joined the previous year. He was sidelined for several years by his service in the Navy, then resumed his career, recording under his own name and with several different groups.

Related: Charles Neville died in 2018

In the mid-’60s, he formed Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, a group that included bassist George Porter Jr., guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste. They became well known locally and were often used as a studio backing group, for nationally known artists such as Lee Dorsey, Dr. John, LaBelle and Robert Palmer.

The group was renamed the Meters in 1968 and began releasing recordings under their own name—including the instrumental hits “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut”—and performing regularly at local venues. In the ’70s, the Meters toured North America and Europe opening for the Rolling Stones and also performed at a party for Paul McCartney.

In 1976, the Meters disbanded and Neville teamed with his brothers to accompany their uncle, a Mardi Gras Indian named Big Chief George “Jolly” Landry, for a one-album project called The Wild Tchoupitoulas. That evolved into the formation of the Neville Brothers, which also included Aaron, Charles and Cyril Neville. The group remained intact for decades, releasing albums and touring prolifically. They traditionally closed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival each year. They released their final album in 2004 and Charles Neville died in April 2018.

Watch the Neville Brothers with Carlos Santana, performing “It’s No Use”

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