Following a battle with pancreatic cancer, New Orleans music icon Charles Neville aka “The Horn Man” has passed away. He was 79.
The saxophonist gained notoriety in the ‘80s and ‘90s as a major player in The Neville Brothers, the groundbreaking soul-funk collective he formed with his older brother Art Neville and his two younger brothers Aaron and Cyril.
In the ’50s and ’60s – following a stint in the US Navy – Charles made a name for himself as an apt horn player, playing with his brother Art and eventually sharing the stage with legends like B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Jimmy Reed as well as local New Orleans heroes like Allen Toussaint and James Booker.
In the late-‘70s he joined the rest of siblings to create The Neville Brothers, which later earned them the nickname of “The First Family of Funk.” In 1989, the group won a Grammy for their instrumental “Healing Chant,” and continued to tour regularly for several decades.
Following a three-year hiatus, the Neville Brothers played a final sold-out performance at New Orleans’ Saenger Theatre on May 2, 2015. In his later years, Charles fronted his own group – Diversity – and continued to perform as a sideman in Aaron’s projects.
“We did 40 years with the Brothers, and they were great years. I gave 300 percent every night,” Aaron told Relix in 2016, later noting how much he loved performing with Charles.
On Feb. 3, 2018, friends, family and fans of the saxophonist banded together to throw a benefit concert entitled “Celebrating Charles.” Special guests included Aaron Neville, Branford Marsalis, Charmaine Neville, Khalif Neville, Mitch Chakour and more.
The direct influence of Charles and the entire Neville clan can be seen directly through the next generation of Nevilles – namely Ivan and Ian Neville, whose group Dumpstaphunk continues to tour around the globe – and indirectly through the countless funk-groove acts that bear the torch of that unique, horn-laden NOLA sound.
Watch Charles and The Neville Brothers perform their beloved song “Yellow Moon,” at their final concert below.