Art Neville, A New Orleans Icon, Dead At 81 The keyboardist and singer was a co-founder of both the Meters and the Neville Brothers — bands that took the funk and swagger of New Orleans to a much larger world.
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Art Neville, A New Orleans Icon, Dead At 81

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Art Neville, A New Orleans Icon, Dead At 81

Art Neville, A New Orleans Icon, Dead At 81

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

New Orleans is grieving the loss of one of its musical greats. Art Neville was a founding member of both The Meters and The Neville Brothers. He died Monday at the age of 81. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas looks back at his life.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: In a city full of good musicians, Art Neville was great. He was just 17 when he sang the lead on a song that became a Mardi Gras classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARDI GRAS MAMBO")

THE HAWKETTS: (Singing) Down in New Orleans, where the blues was born, it takes a cool cat to blow a horn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ART NEVILLE: I was in high school, and we had the band with some guys in school. How we got the band together, I don't know; we just decided we wanted to play music.

TSIOULCAS: This is Art Neville speaking to NPR in 1990.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NEVILLE: With the little uniforms on - the roomy (ph) coats and the gray pants and the black patent leather shoes. And there was eight of us, you know, little pretty dudes. This was hip, and we wanted to record a song. We got a chance to record "Mardi Gras Mambo." Seventeen years old, didn't know what was happening. And we just felt, you know, it was good. It was fun.

TSIOULCAS: Art Neville was drawn to doo-wop and R&B as a kid. And even while serving in the Navy, he continued performing and recorded a string of singles as a vocalist. But it was as a keyboard player that he really started to get noticed. By the middle of the 1960s, he led a band that became house musicians for the famed New Orleans producer Allen Toussaint.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE METERS' "CISSY STRUT")

TSIOULCAS: They became known as The Meters, as Toussaint recalled in a 1988 interview with WHYY's FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ALLEN TOUSSAINT: He's a natural leader because every time he's ever put a band together, it's been very special and very unique, and The Meters was no exception, of course.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE METERS' "CISSY STRUT")

TSIOULCAS: With songs like "Cissy Strut" and "Fire On The Bayou," The Meters became stars in New Orleans and carried their music far from home. They opened for The Rolling Stones and played for Paul McCartney. And The Meters were some of the founding fathers of funk. They were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys. But by the late 1970s, Art Neville had teamed up with his siblings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YELLOW MOON")

THE NEVILLE BROTHERS: (Singing) Whoa. Yellow moon, yellow moon, yellow moon, have you seen that Creole woman? Ooh.

TSIOULCAS: The Neville Brothers became favorites at concerts and clubs around the world. Aaron sang lead, the late Charles played saxophone, Cyril played drums and Art keyboards. The group became a New Orleans institution. For years, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival closed out with a Neville Brothers set.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEY ALL ASK'D FOR YOU")

THE METERS: (Singing) They all asked for you.

TSIOULCAS: The group made its farewell appearance in 2015. Last December, Art Neville announced his retirement. He thanked his fans, as he said, for letting us share our music with the world.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEY ALL ASK'D FOR YOU")

THE METERS: (Singing) I went on down to the Audubon Zoo, and they all asked for you.

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