Published: Sat, April 28, 2018
Entertaiment | By Mabel Barber

Charles Neville (2018), saxophonist for the Neville Brothers

Charles Neville (2018), saxophonist for the Neville Brothers

Charles Neville, sax player of the influential Neville Brothers band, died Thursday after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 79 years-old. They disbanded in 2012 but reunited in 2015 for a farewell concert in New Orleans.

Neil Portnow of the Recording Academy said, "His dedication to the music community of New Orleans will continue to be recognized by fans and peers for years to come. Our condolences go out to his family and friends during this hard time". He also discovered the music scene of Memphis, where he was sent - far from the oceans - when he enlisted in the Navy in the 1950s.

He spent several years in prison in the 1960s on marijuana charges and, in the state penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, found a jamming mate in fellow inmate James Booker, the R&B keyboardist.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., paid their respects to "Charlie the horn man" and the entire Neville family.

In 1976, Charles and his brothers played on an album for his Uncle George Landry's band, The Wild Tchoupitoulas.

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"Charlie the horn man" rose to fame alongside his siblings Aaron, Art and Cyril as the Grammy-winning Neville Brothers band. Intermingling funk, soul and New Orleans rhythm & blues, they achieved global acclaim in the 1980s, touring all over the world and releasing albums on major labels. A strict vegetarian and adherent of various Eastern spiritual philosophies, he told Thompkins that he brought a "calming, centering energy" to the Neville Brothers. That would lead to the brothers starting their own group.

He had moved to rural MA in the 1990s; his wife Kristin's parents gave the couple land on which to build a house. He was also eager to get away from crime in New Orleans.

Singer Aaron Neville, the group's frontman who has pursued a successful solo career, said that if he had to choose brothers, "I would definitely choose you".

Aaron Neville posted a longer tribute on his Facebook page, in which he said his brother Charles had helped him become the person he is today.

"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", Aaron Neville wrote. "I'll always see your special infectious smile on the stage next to me, it would always give me a smile".

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