2019 Honorary Member
Keyboardist and singer Art “Poppa Funk” Neville (1937–2019) was New Orleans “royalty,” playing a seminal role in the New Orleans music scene for 65 years. He was a founding member and frontman of The Meters, a founding member of the Neville Brothers, a 2018 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for his work with the Meters, and a member of the Funky Meters.
Neville attended St. Augustine and Booker T. Washington high schools. From a young age he immersed himself in music, working in a record store and absorbing the great doo-wop groups of the day: Clyde McPhatter’s Drifters, the Orioles, the Clovers. He also admired piano rockers Professor Longhair and Fats Domino. In 1953 at age 17 he joined the Hawketts, who recorded the classic “Mardi Gras Mambo” in 1954 – a song that has been a staple of Mardi Gras for 60 years.
After a stint in the Navy, Neville made numerous R&B recordings that became classics of the era, including “Cha Dooky Do” and “All These Things.” In the mid-1960s he founded Art Neville & the Neville Sounds, which evolved into The Meters. It featured Neville on keyboards, George Porter Jr. on bass, Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste on drums, and Leo Nocentelli on guitar. The group is considered one of the originators of funk, and their songs “Look-Ka Py Py" and “Cissy Strut” have become classics. They got a big break when Allen Toussaint hired them as the house band for his recording studio. They went on to tour North America and Europe.
Neville left the band in 1977 to perform with his three brothers, Aaron, Charles, and Cyril. Known as the Neville Brothers, their first project was with their uncle, Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief George “Jolly” Landry, on a 1976 album called The Wild Tchoupitoulas. For over 30 years the Neville Brothers found success as ambassadors of New Orleans funk, R&B, soul, and Mardi Gras Indian music, recording the seminal album Yellow Moon and becoming the first New Orleans band to perform on the television show Austin City Limits. The Nevilles’ last album was released in 2004 and their last concert was in 2012.
Meanwhile, Art Neville joined The Funky Meters, an offshoot of the original group that reunited him with Porter.
Through 2018, Neville continued to perform, even while battling health problems. “You can bring me there in the ambulance, roll me onto the stage, give me a microphone, and a mirror where I can see the people,” he joked in a 2013 interview with Times-Picayune/Advocate music writer Keith Spera. “I’ve been doing this all my life. I enjoy it. Even the bad parts of it, the parts I didn’t like…I found out that’s the way things go sometimes. You’ve got to go along with them.”
Neville officially retired in December 2108, and died in July 2019. He has left a lasting legacy that is still audible not only on recordings but during Mardi Gras today.
Art Neville was unable to accept his award in person but sent the following reply:
To be named the 2019 Honorary Member of the Society of American Music is a great honor. I’d like to thank everyone at the Society for bestowing this honor upon me; your dedication to the study, education, creation of music is unsurpassed. Please keep up the great work for future generations. Thank you again for this great honor.
Art “Poppa Funk” Neville