HUNTINGTON, Mass. (CelebrityAccess) — Charles Neville, a saxophonist best known for his role in the Neville Brothers, died on Thursday in Massachusetts. He was 79.
While a cause of death was not disclosed, Neville had been battling pancreatic cancer and had been the focus of a benefit concert in Northhampton, Mass in February that featured performances from family and friends including Aaron Neville, Charmaine Neville, Khalif Neville, Mitch Chakour, among others.
In a tribute to his departed brother, posted on his social media, Aaron Neville wrote:
“You helped to mold me into who I am today and I’ll always be thankful. I’ll always see your special infectious smile on the stage next to me, it would always give me a smile. I’m happy that we had a long hang together, the ups and downs. It took who we were and where we came from to make us who we are.
“And you are a great brother Charlie the horn man. I know you have a spot in the heavenly band next to James Booker, James Black, Herbert Hardesty, Fats Domino, Johnny Adams all the jazz bebop players who you turned me on to. Dizzy, Charlie Parker, Miles and the list goes on. Momee, Poppee, Jolly Cookie, they are all waiting on you.”
A native of New Orleans and steeped in the city’s musical tradition, Charles Neville was an accomplished reed player by his teenaged years and he left high school to perform professionally, scoring gigs with touring bands such as Gene Franklin & the Houserockers. Later, he joined the house band of the famed Dew Drop Inn at 2836 LaSalle Street, in New Orleans.
Neville later did several stints with the government, first as a member of the U.S. Navy, and then in the early 1960s, he was incarcerated for three years in Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana for marijuana possession.
In the mid-1970s, he returned to New Orleans, where he recorded an album of Mardi Gras songs with their uncle George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry, a noted Mardis Gras ‘Indian’ chief. The recording inspired the brothers, with the help of manager Paul Howrilla, to form the Neville Brothers Band, which would go on to become one of best-known ensembles from the city.
While they never enjoyed significant mainstream chart success, the Neville Brothers toured worldwide, and won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Performance in 1989 for “Healing Chant” off of their album “Yellow Moon.”
In 2015, the group performed a farewell concert at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, after which Charles pursued solo projects, performing with artists such as blues legend Jeff Pitchell.
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune,
Mr. Neville is survived by his wife, his daughter and two sons. He was also survived by a sister and three brothers.