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In the Spotlight: Aaron Neville

By

In the Spotlight: Aaron Neville

Aaron in the mid '60s

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Born:

January 24, 1941 in New Orleans, LA

Styles:

New Orleans soul, Soul, R&B, Gospel, Adult Contemporary, Country

Instruments:

Vocals

Claims to fame:

  • One of the most expressive and beautiful voices in soul music
  • As one of the Neville Brothers, an important part of New Orleans' "First Family of Soul"
  • A master interpreter who is equally adept at soul, pop, jazz, country, and gospel
  • His '60s and '70s recordings with Allen Toussaint define New Orleans soul and funk

Early years:

Aaron, the second oldest of the four Neville Brothers, was brought up with his family in New Orleans' notorious Calliope projects, developing his astonishing vocal sound at an early age; influenced equally by proto-soul singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson as well as the high yodeling sound of "cowboy" music, he combined the two to make an angelic but very flexible style that would prove to be very influential but almost impossible to imitate. (As a teenager, Aaron recalls singing to gain free admission to local basketball games.) Encouraged by a high school teacher to pursue a career in music, Aaron joined his brother Art's primitive R&B band, the Hawkettes, which had already enjoyed a local hit with the seasonal classic "Mardi Gras Mambo." By 18, however, the singer was serving time for stealing a car.

Success:

While serving his six-month sentence, Aaron wrote his first hit, the bizarrely dark "Over You," which may have been influenced by the atmosphere of his surroundings. The inmates loved the song and his voice, and upon release, a local DJ got him an audition with rising NOLA songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint. "Over You" hit the R&B charts in 1960, but the followups, now recognized as classics of New Orleans Soul, were ignored outside of South Louisiana. Then, in 1966, the new local label Parlo came across a ballad called "Tell It Like It Is," written by former Little Richard bandleader Lee Diamond. It introduced Aaron's voice to the world, selling a million copies and establishing his legacy for all time.

Later years:

The label soon folded, however, and while Aaron went on to work with Toussaint on some equally revered funk songs in the early '70s (including "Hercules"), he remained hitless. Then, in the mid-70s, the Neville family merged together, as Cyril and Art (from the Meters) joined Charles and Aaron and became the Neville Brothers. The group steadily grew a national reputation over the next decade, at which point Linda Ronstadt decided to include four duets with Aaron on her album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. Fully three of those became smash hits, finally launching Neville into a career as an Adult Contemporary artist. He maintains his solo career today, as well as working with the Brothers, who are an annual mainstay at the famous New Orleans "Jazz Fest."

Johnny Ace awards and honors:

  • GRAMMY Awards (1990, 1991, 1994)
  • Louisiana Music Hall of Fame (2010)
  • Delta Music Hall of Fame (2009)

Aaron Neville facts and trivia:

  • Is the father of session musicians Ivan Neville and TV personality Arthel Neville
  • Wears a gold St. Jude medal in his left earlobe, crediting the saint for curing his heroin addiction
  • Has a tattoo of a cutlass on his left cheek, gotten during his wild teenage years
  • Has sung the National Anthem at two Super Bowls and performed at Woodstock '94 and at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Lost his home in Hurricane Katrina, but finally relocated to the Northshore of New Orleans in 2010
  • Lost his childhood sweetheart and wife of 40 years in 2007, but has since remarried
  • Often end concerts with a slow version of the "Mickey Mouse" TV theme, which he admires for its innocence and inclusiveness

Aaron Neville hit songs and albums:

#1 hits
R&B:
  • "Tell It Like It Is" (1966)
Adult Contemporary:
  • "Don't Know Much" (1989) with Linda Ronstadt
  • "All My Life" (1990) with Linda Ronstadt
  • "Everybody Plays the Fool" (1991)
Top 10 hits
Pop:
  • "Tell It Like It Is" (1966)
  • "Don't Know Much" (1989) with Linda Ronstadt
  • "Everybody Plays the Fool" (1991)
Adult Contemporary:
  • "When Something is Wrong with My Baby" (1990)
  • "Somewhere Somebody" (1991)
  • "Don't Take Away My Heaven" (1993)
#1 albums
Jazz:
  • Nature Boy: The Standards Album (2003)
Top 10 albums
Gospel:
  • Devotion (2000)
  • Believe (2003)
  • Christmas Prayer (2005)

Other notable Aaron Neville recordings:

"Over You," "Waiting at the Station," "Let's Live," "Wrong Number (I Am Sorry, Goodbye)," "How Can I Help But Love You," "Where Is My Baby," "Why Worry," "She Took You for a Ride," "A Hard Nut to Crack," "You Think You're So Smart," "Jailhouse," "Bet You're Surprised," "Love, Love, Love," "Since You're Gone," "Space Man," "Hold On, Help Is On the Way," "Hercules," "The Greatest Love," "Performance," "Mickey Mouse Theme," "Pledging My Love," "For Your Precious Love," "Ten Commandments of Love," "This Is My Story/We Belong Together," "Louisiana 1927," "It Feels Like Rain," "That's the Way She Loves," "Angola Bound," "Close Your Eyes," "I Bid You Goodnight," "Ave Maria," "Earth Angel," "Mona Lisa," "Save the Last Dance For Me," "Warm Your Heart"

Movie and TV appearances (movies in italics): Everybody's All-American (1988), "Saturday Night Live" (1989), Tune in Tomorrow (1990), "The Arsenio Hall Show" (1990, 1991), Zandalee (1991), Posse (1993), "Late Show with David Letterman" (1993, 1994), F.T.W. (1994), "Charlie Rose" (1995), Mulholland Falls (1996), "New York Undercover" (1996), The Fan (1996), "Ellen" (1997), "Men Behaving Badly" (1997), "Sessions at West 54th" (1999), "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010), "A Concert for Hurricane Relief" (2005), "The Young and the Restless" (2006), "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (2010)

Covered by: Heart, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, Etta James, Percy Sledge, Andy Williams, Paul Weller, Boz Scaggs, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Nina Simone, Michael McDonald, Freddy Fender, Billy Joe Royal, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Robert Randolph, Richard "Dimples" Fields, Don Johnson

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