Known onstage as “Charlie the horn man,” R&B and jazz musician Charles Neville was born in 1938 in New Orleans. Immersed in New Orleans’s musical influences early on, Charles and his siblings formed the Neville Brothers, later best-known for songs which combined social consciousness with an upbeat spirit. Rhythm and blues, gospel, doo-wop, soul, rock, jazz, funk, and Mardi Gras rhythms were all genres embraced by—and sometimes co-mingled in—the Nevilles’ creative work. “Healing Chant” from their best-selling album Yellow Moon, earned The Neville Brothers a Grammy in 1989 for best top instrumental performance.
In the 1990s Charles moved to Massachusetts with his wife Kristin Neville and children. He continued to perform with a wide variety of musicians and members of his family, including his children, and he recorded albums with groups such as Diversity and the Songcatchers. His interest in Eastern spirituality was reflected in his 2008 album Buddha’s Palm. Charles continued to travel to New Orleans, especially to perform with his daughter, jazz and funk singer Charmaine Neville. Before a musical celebration of the Neville Brothers slated for November 2017, Charles was hospitalized with pancreatic cancer, which he died of April 26, 2018.
The Wood Museum worked with Kristin Neville to celebrate Charles Neville’s life and musical legacy with this exhibition of personal mementos, musical instruments, photographs, and, of course, his music. The Blues to Green Jazz and Roots Festival in Springfield, started by Kristin in 2013 with support from her husband, will celebrate its 8th season in August 2021, and Charles’s legacy will carry forward with the Charles Neville Legacy Project, a program which will bring acclaimed musicians of color into the Springfield public schools to teach history and literature while centering Black people and social justice.
Image above: Photograph by John “Nunu” Zomot