Art Neville, famed New Orleans musician, dead at 81

Keyboardist Arthur Lanon Neville was a part of the famed musical groups The Meters and the Neville Brothers.
Art Neville performs at the New Orleans Jazz Festival
Art Neville performs at the New Orleans Jazz Festival on May 2, 2008.Leon Morris / Redferns via Getty Images file

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By Doha Madani and Associated Press

Keyboardist Art Neville, one of the famed Neville Brothers, died Monday after years of declining health, his manager said.

He was 81.

Born Arthur Lanon Neville, he was part of a number of musical acts over his lifetime, including The Meters, who toured with The Rolling Stones and served as the studio band for artists such as Patti Labelle, according to the band's website.

The group reunited several times over the years but the original Meters, or the funky Meters back then, disbanded in the late 1970s. The group received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy in 2018.

After the Meters first fizzled out, Neville founded the Neville Brothers with his three younger siblings — Aaron, Cyril and Charles — in the 1970s in their hometown of New Orleans. The brothers began singing as children, but stopped performing together in the 1950s and ’60s, then reunited to form the family act.

The Neville Brothers won a Grammy in 1989 for best pop instrumental performance for "Healing Chant" from their Yellow Moon album, which reached Platinum status.

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For years, the Neville Brothers were the closing act at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The four brothers were scattered across the country while the city struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but returned to anchor the festival in 2007.

In 1953, Neville joined the Hawketts and went on to record classic "Mardi Gras Mambo" in 1954, a song that has played at the New Orleans festival for decades.

Though his brothers Aaron and Cyril still perform, Neville announced his retirement in December. Charles Neville died in 2018.

Neville said in a 2013 interview with The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that he was happy with his lifetime in music, even if it didn't bring him the most financial success.

“I didn’t make a lot of money. Maybe we did make it and didn’t get it. I don’t know," Neville said. "But it don’t matter. My life is happy, I’m happy, the people that are closest to me are happy. Don’t worry about the other part.”

Aaron Neville asked in a tweet Monday that the public give the family time to grieve.

"Artie Poppa Funk Neville you are loved dearly by every one who knew you," he wrote.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a statement Monday and said that the city had lost a legend.

"Art Neville was a founding father of New Orleans funk, and so much more. We are poorer for his passing, and richer for having known him,” Cantrell said. "Generations of New Orleanians grew up on the sounds that Art Neville laid down over the decades. Art’s musical spirit lives on in his immediate and extended family: including his brothers, his son and his nephew."

The Recording Academy, the organization responsible for the Grammy Awards, said in a statement Neville would be "deeply missed by many, but remembered for imaginatively bringing New Orleans funk to life."

"Art Neville was a legendary musician known for creating some of the most distinguished R&B and soul music to come out of New Orleans," the statement 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."

CORRECTION (July 22, 2019, 5:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article included an incorrect photo. The photo was of Cyril Neville, not his brother, Art Neville. It has been replaced by a photo of Art Neville.