Art Neville, New Orleans funk star, dies aged 81

Keyboardist and singer behind the Meters and the Neville Brothers hailed as an icon by Louisiana governor John Edwards

Art Neville, one of the most celebrated funk musicians in the US, has died aged 81.

His manager, Kent Sorrell, confirmed that the keyboardist and vocalist passed away peacefully this morning at home, with his adoring wife, Lorraine, by his side. No cause of death has been given, but his health had declined in recent years. He had suffered a stroke as well as complications from back surgery in 2001.

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Born in 1937, Neville grew up in New Orleans. His career began in the mid-50s when he joined the band the Hawketts, which he went on to front. Their song Mardi Gras Mambo became a cornerstone of New Orleans funk sound.

After six years in the navy, he formed his own band in the mid-60s, Art Neville & the Neville Sounds, renamed the Meters in 1968. As well as their own hits, such as Cissy Strut, they were the backing band for Robert Palmer, Dr John, Lee Dorsey and LaBelle, including their hit Lady Marmalade. Paul McCartney was a fan, hosting them at a concert on the Queen Mary in 1975, and the group toured with the Rolling Stones.

The Meters gradually drifted apart, beset by tensions and substance misuse issues. We had some tragedies happen with the group, Neville once said. Blame it on who you want to, it dont make any difference. We didnt have the wisdom that Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney had. They officially disbanded in 1980 but re-formed in 1989, changing their name to the Funky Meters in the mid-90s.

Meanwhile, Neville joined his brothers Aaron, Charles and Cyril to form the Neville Brothers, who had a major success in 1989 with the Daniel Lanois-produced, gold-certified album Yellow Moon.

Neville continued to play in his later years, despite health problems and reduced mobility, but retired in December 2018.

Louisiana governor John Edwards said in a statement: Louisiana lost an icon today Art Neville took the unique sound of New Orleans and played it for the world to enjoy. Actor and musician Harry Shearer tweeted: RIP the heart and soul of 2 great bands, while actor Wendell Pearce called him a New Orleans cultural icon.

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