Neville Brothers saxophonist Charles Neville is battling pancreatic cancer.
"My father is a fighter," Charmaine Neville said this week. "He's going to bounce back. He's getting better, but it's going to be a long process. We need him to get more strength and more meat on those bones."
He has been hospitalized in Massachusetts, where he has lived for many years, for an extended period, subsisting on an intravenous diet. This week, he was finally able to sample solid food: Jell-O.
"He was upset that it wasn't organic, but he'll get over it," Charmaine Neville said.
A benefit concert to raise money for Charles Neville's medical and living expenses is scheduled for Feb. 3 at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In addition to Charmaine, scheduled performers include Charles' son, pianist Khalif Neville; his brother Aaron Neville; singer Henri Smith, who moved from New Orleans to Massachusetts after Hurricane Katrina; Youssoupha Sidibe, a master of the African instrument the kora; and guitarist/keyboardist Mitch Chakour.
Donations also can be made directly through the event’s website, celebratingcharles.org.
The 79-year-old Charles Neville is the second-oldest of the four brothers who, for three decades, formed the core of the Neville Brothers, one of the most important and influential bands to emerge from New Orleans.
Born and raised in New Orleans, he grew up on Valence Street and in the Calliope housing development. In the 1950s, he toured with bands that backed such rhythm & blues stars as Johnny Ace, Jimmy Reed and B.B. King. He enlisted in the Navy in 1956 and was stationed in Memphis.
“I was really bummed out until I found Beale Street,” Charles Neville said in an August 2017 interview with Gwen Thompkins, host of "Music Inside Out," which airs locally on WWNO-FM.
He joined singer Larry Williams’ band, but his music career was soon sidelined. As he described in the “The Brothers," the Neville Brothers' 2000 autobiographical oral history, he fell into a life of crime and addiction; he fought alternating cycles of heroin and methadone for two decades.
In the early 1960s, he served time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for possession of marijuana. He rehearsed in the prison’s music room, collaborating with other incarcerated New Orleans musicians, including pianist James Booker and drummer James Black.
He moved to New York in the late 1960s, gigging with various artists. He finally returned to New Orleans at the behest of his uncle, George Landry, aka Big Chief Jolly, of the Wild Tchoupitoulas. Landry brought nephews Charles, Aaron, Art and Cyril together for the recording sessions for the 1976 album "The Wild Tchoupitoulas."
That collaboration gave birth to the Neville Brothers. Intermingling funk, soul and New Orleans rhythm and blues, they catapulted to national acclaim in the 1980s. Charles Neville, who finally shook his addiction in 1986 via an intensive program in Eugene, Oregon, supplied one of the band's sonic signatures via his saxophone.
It snaked through the title track of the classic 1989 album “Yellow Moon" and that album's “Healing Chant." "Healing Chant" won a Grammy for best pop instrumental performance, the Neville Brothers’ only Grammy win.
A strict vegetarian and adherent of various Eastern spiritual philosophies, Charles Neville told Thompkins he brought a “calming, centering energy” to the Neville Brothers.
After the Neville Brothers called it quits in 2012, he continued to tour as a member of Aaron Neville’s solo band. He also led his own jazz combos.
He had moved to rural Massachusetts after he got married, and his wife’s parents gave the couple land on which to build a house. He has also said that he was eager to get away from the crime in New Orleans.
In Massachusetts, he performed with two of his sons as the New England Nevilles.
He was scheduled to take part in the Neville Family Groove, a celebration of the Nevilles legacy at Tipitina’s in November 2017. However, he was hospitalized at the time and unable to perform.