Aaron Neville is an American R&B singer and musician best known for his hits like ‘Tell It Like It Is’, ‘Everybody Plays the Fool’, and ‘Don't Take Away My Heaven.’ Blessed with a rich, mellifluous voice that won the hearts millions of Americans during the mid-20th century, the talented singer has four Platinum-certified albums and four Top 10 hits in the US to his credit. Along with his solo career, he also performed as a part of the famous Neville Brothers band which also had his brothers Art, Charles and Cyril. Being of mixed African American and Native American heritage lends a versatility and vibrancy to his music which has elements of Cajun and Creole influences. Born into a humble but happy family, the young Aaron was introduced to music quite early on in life. Charming and talented, he ventured into a musical career and found success soon enough. However he was also plagued by drug abuse and altercations with the law which threatened his budding career. Determined to make it big in life, he struggled hard to leave his troubled life behind and embarked on a new beginning which eventually led to his tremendous success as an R&B musician.
Childhood & Early Life
Aaron Neville was born on January 24, 1941, in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States to a merchant marine sailor and his wife as one of their several children. His siblings include brothers Art, Charles and Cyril. The family is of mixed African American and Native American heritage.
Even though the family was poor, the children were raised in a happy atmosphere. Their mother was a loving and caring woman who often sang to the children and also encouraged their budding love for music. Aaron inherited his zest for life from his mother who he hailed as a wonderful woman.
Aaron first became interested in music after watching his brother Art sing in parks and street corners. Inspired by his brother, he too took up singing and even formed a band as a school student. From a young age there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to make a career in music.
As a teenager trying to become a singer, he often got into troubles as well. Growing up in a poverty ridden community surrounded by drug abuse and violence, Aaron developed a drug addiction and even got into legal troubles for his misdeeds.
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Aaron Neville, along with his brothers, Cyril, Charles, and Art formed an R&B group called The Hawketts and began performing in New Orleans in the mid-1950s. They first tasted moderate success with the song ‘Mardi Gras Mambo’ which became a local hit in 1954.
Aaron was well on the way to becoming a popular singer, but his drug habits and bad company created hindrance in his career. In 1958, the teenager was arrested for car theft and had to spend six months in prison under terrible conditions. Following his prison experience, the young man resolved to rebuild his musical career.
In 1960, Neville released ’Over You’ which became his first single to get airplay outside New Orleans. It rose to No. 21 position on the national R&B charts.
Even though he released minor hits over the ensuing years, his first major hit came in 1966. His song ‘Tell It Like It Is’, released on a small New Orleans label, topped Billboard's R&B chart for five weeks in 1967 and also reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It sold over one million copies and heralded Aaron Neville’s emergence as a successful singing sensation.
His success continued to rise over the following years and he went on to form highly productive collaborations with other singers like Linda Ronstadt, Anne Murray, and Trisha Yearwood.
Along with his solo career, he also performed in the Neville Brothers group which also included his brothers Cyril, Charles, and Art. Formed in 1977, the group released many hit albums including ‘The Neville Brothers’ (1978), ‘Fiyo on the Bayou’ (1981), ‘Uptown’ (1987), ‘Yellow Moon’ (1989), ‘Brother's Keeper’ (1990) and ‘Family Groove’ (1992).
Neville’s other hits included “Everybody Plays the Fool”, his 1991 cover of the 1972 Main Ingredient song, that reached the number eight slot on the Hot 100; “Don't Take Away My Heaven”, “Hercules” and “Can't Stop My Heart From Loving You (The Rain Song).”
In his career spanning over six decades, Aaron Neville has also worked for television, movies and sporting events. He sang the national anthem at the WWF's SummerSlam 1993 and at WCW Spring Stampede in 1994, and also in the movie ‘The Fan’ (1996).
In 2006, Neville performed a rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Super Bowl XL in Detroit, Michigan, along with Aretha Franklin and Dr. John.
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In 2009, along with the Mt. Zion Mass Choir, Neville brought out a version of the song “A Change Is Gonna Come” on the compilation album, “Oh Happy Day”.
Aaron Neville’s 1966 song ‘Tell It Like It Is’ peaked at No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The song was ranked No. 391 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2010.
He sang a cover of the song ‘Don't Know Much’ with Linda Ronstadt in 1989. The song became extremely popular and won the duo a Grammy Award and was nominated for Song of the Year.
Neville sang several hit duets with Linda Ronstadt including ‘All My Life’, a song written by Karla Bonoff. The single became an international hit and earned the duo much acclaim.
Awards & Achievements
In 1990, Aaron Neville along with Linda Ronstadt won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for ‘Don’t Know Much.’ The next year the duo won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for ‘All My Life.’
He twice won the Rolling Stone Critics’ Poll for Best Male Singer (1992 and 1993).
In 1994, Neville and Trisha Yearwood were presented with the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Vocal Collaboration for ‘I Fall to Pieces.’
In 2010, Neville was inducted in the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame, while he was performing at Baton Rouge's Manship Theater in the Shaw Center.
He was given the University of Notre Dame Laetare Medal in 2015 in recognition of his service to the Catholic Church and society.
Personal Life & Legacy
As a teenager, Aaron Neville met a girl named Joel in 1957 and immediately fell in love with her. The couple got married on January 10, 1959; both were 18 years old at that time. They were blessed with four children and remained happily married for several decades even though their relationship went through some tough times in between.
Neville considered his wife to be his anchor who always stood by his side in good times and bad ones too. Unfortunately, Joel became ill with cancer in 2004 and died in 2007 after 48 years of marriage.
Even though Neville was shattered by Joel’s death, he eventually found love again and married photographer Sarah A. Friedman on November 12, 2010.
His oldest son, Ivan is also a musician. He released an album, “If My Ancestors Could See Me Now”, in 1988, which yielded a Top 40 hit with “Not Just Another Girl”. His third son is a rap artist and has performed with his father and Neville Brothers.