New Orleans funk and R&B
New Orleans, Louisiana

In New Orleans, being a musical family is itself a tradition, and the Neville family is one of the city’s most important musical dynasties. “It’s the culture here that it’s passed down from one generation to the next,” Cyril Neville notes, and his life story certainly illustrates that legacy. At age 75, Cyril Neville, who got his start as the youngest of the four Neville Brothers, is a renowned percussionist who’s been lauded as “one of the last great southern soul singers.”

Growing up surrounded by music, the rhythm spoke to Cyril, so he naturally gravitated toward percussion. He was influenced by the early musical successes of his three older brothers—Art, Charles, and Aaron—particularly when eldest brother Art’s band, the Hawketts, recorded the iconic “Mardi Gras Mambo” in 1955, when Cyril was only seven.

Cyril eventually joined the Meters, a band Art had formed. The Meters were key innovators in the development of funk in the 1960s and ’70s. Funk emphasizes the off-beat with heavy rhythms and slows down the tempo, allowing for the often-improvised insertion of richer melodic expression than possible in faster dance music. New Orleans funk marries this modern groove with local sounds like New Orleans jazz, Mardi Gras Indian tunes, and brass band second-line parades.

In the late 1970s, Cyril’s uncle George Landry, aka Big Chief Jolly, invited the four Neville siblings to collaborate with his Mardi Gras Indian band, the Wild Tchoupitoulas. For many Black New Orleanians, this vital New Orleans tradition is an homage to Native Americans who assisted their enslaved ancestors; for the Nevilles, who have passed down stories of Choctaw ancestry for generations, it is a proud expression of family identity. Inspired by this experience, the siblings formed the Neville Brothers. Over the next three decades, they became international stars as the first family of New Orleans funk, soul, and R&B. All the while, Cyril continued his storied solo career and now tours with his son Omari and his band.

In addition to Omari on drums, the band includes Gregg Molinaro and Austin Clements, both of whom have been playing with Omari since they were all in their early teens. For Cyril, veteran of the Meters, Wild Tchoupitoulas, and Neville Brothers, “being on stage with my son and his band is like being on stage with all three of those entities at the same time, all rolled into one.”

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