New Orleans funk music legend Art Neville dies at 81

Art Neville performing with The Funky Meters at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2012. Photo by Infrogmation | CC.

New Orleans funk music icon Art Neville has died Monday at the age of 81, according to numerous local news reports.

According to, Neville died peacefully this morning surrounded by friends at family at his home after a long illness.

Arthur Lanon Neville was born in 1937 in New Orleans. He came to be known as Poppa Funk whose music shaped and became a fixture of the the Big Easy sound. He formed two influential bands: The Meters in 1965; and The Neville Brothers band, which he formed with his three brothers in 1977.

Neville grew up with his brothers on Valence Street in the Uptown part of New Orleans. Like numerous musicians from the city, Neville became interested in music at an early age.

One of Neville’s first jobs was performing on the piano with hometown band Hawketts after replacing Mac Millet. He later became proficient in singing and playing the keyboard.

While with the Hawketts in 1954, Neville recorded a newer version of “Mardi Gras Mambo,” a song that can be heard repeatedly playing from inside French Quarter bars and on the local radio station WWOZ each year during Fat Tuesday. It wasn’t an original recording by the Hawketts, but the band made it popular.

Neville served in the Navy in the late 1950s and early 1960s but continued to record music, releasing two more albums during this time.

Neville shifted from the doo-wop sound of the Hawketts to funk. He founded Neville Sounds, later renamed the Meters, which reached international acclaim and inspired several notable bands, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

In an interview with Offbeat magazine in 1995, Neville said he had to scale down the band because the stage at Ivanhoe on Bourbon Street wasn’t big enough to hold all of the members. After dropping brothers Aaron and Cyril from the Neville Sounds, the band changed its name after drawing it from a hat.

“That’s the juicy part,” Neville said. “Somebody didn’t want my name to be on the motherfuckin’ record. We were putting one record out with my name on it, “Bo Diddley” and some other shit, and when the instrumental [“Sophisticated Cissy”] came out, we had to pick a name that didn’t have nothing to do with me at all.”

Neville’s achievements also include winning two Grammy Awards—one in 1989 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and one in 1996 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance—and several nominations.

Last year, Neville announced his retirement from music.

The death of Neville follows that of several New Orleans music legends this year, including Dr. John, or Malcolm Rebennack, who died on June 6; and Dave Bartholomew, who passed away on June 23. Neville’s younger brother Charlie passed away in 2018 following a battle with pancreatic cancer.