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Kingpins of Funk: The Neville Brothers Mark Fortieth Anniversary

(BlackStarNews) -GUEAX TIGERS! Charles Neville and a fellow cajun from New Orleans. I ‘m a Wild Tchoupitoulas from the 13th Ward. Blood shiffa-hoona I won’t be barred. I walked through fire and swam through mud. Snached the feather from an eagle and drank panther’s blood. – The Wild Tchoupitoulas, Meet Me Boys On The Battlefront Over the decades a lot of folks in the music business have claimed to be “outlaws,” but only a small handful really were. The Neville Brothers on the other hand, were the real deal. If Chuck Berry rang the door bell of White America and James Brown pushed his way in when it opened, then the Neville Brothers swarmed through, set the house on fire and danced on the dining room table. They may not have had the most hits of their 70’s band classmates, but being the funkiest band from the blackest city in America had a ripple effect thru multiple genres of the music industry that forever changed the game. And in 2017 the four brothers from the 13th Ward of New Orleans celebrate 40 years of tipping the scale with their Mardi Gras Indian infused New Orleans funk across the globe. The tradition the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans began where “Congo Square” in the 18th Century, where West African slaves were bought and sold and at times allowed to go to drum, dance and buy goods. It was there that Africans began to imitate the dress of the local indigenous population, the Chitimacha Native American tribe in an attempt to win them over and form an alliance against the one oppressing the both, the white man. Instead, the “Black Indians” of New Orleans formed various groups that would at times, fight among themselves, usually on Mari Gras day when they would march and dance in each other’s orbit before the main parade began. When Buffalo Bill’s Wild West wintered in New Orleans from 1884 to 1885 and Black Indians became exposed to the traditional wear of Native Americans from the western plains, they began to incorporate them into their own Mardi Gras costumes. In the early 1900’s, ostrich plumes replaced chicken feathers and disagreements between tribes were worked out with dance off instead of knife fights. The Neville Brothers, Art, Charles, Aaron & Cyril Neville grew up in Mardi Gras Indian culture. Their uncle George Landry aka Big Chief Jolly founded the Wild Tchoupitoulas tribe of the 13th Ward. The four Neville Brothers bond is blood and their blues-soaked deep pocket funk grooves is the basis of their greatness and their exalted place in music history.


Art, the oldest is called Poppa Funk for a reason. He formed the first band. As both inspired singer and blistering keyboardist, his role models were Fats Domino and Bill Doggett. Art is the Founding Father and still lives in the same 13th Ward block of Valence Street where he and his siblings were raised in New Orleans.

Charles is a year younger than Art. He is a devout student of bebop and Buddhism who plays saxophone. At fifteen, he was the first brother to leave home and hit the road, playing with everyone from the Rabbit Foot Minstrels to B.B.King. They called him “The Boy Wonder of Sax.” He lived in Memphis for a spell and came home with a new stew of blues.


Aaron is a believer, a devout Catholic who worships at the shrine of St. Jude, patron of lost causes. Aaron’s vocal aesthetic is downright angelic, an extraordinarily sweet mixture of Gene Autry yodeling and Golden Age gospel crooning. Along with Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, he is classified as one of the seminal soul singers.

Cyril is the youngest Neville Brother. He is a radical – a rougher, tougher blend of R&B, bayou funk mixed with militant social consciousness. As a writer, percussionist and powerhouse singer, he has made his mark as the most fiery brother and impassioned keeper of the Neville flame.


The story of the the Neville Brothers starts in the 1950’s. “In 1954, Art was seventeen and I was six,” says Cyril. “That’s when Art formed the Hawketts. I think of that line from “Shake, Rattle and Roll” – ‘I’m like a one-eyed cat peeping in a sea food store.’ That was me, hiding behind the couch, listening to art rehearsing the Hasketts. Man, that was the most exciting thing I’d ever heard in my life.”

Read the full story here.

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