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'Neville Way' street renaming approved in New Orleans

The historic family of Black Catholic musicians is slated to have signage installed in their honor near a childhood home in the coming months.

Left: Neville Brothers pose for a photo in the 1970s. Right: A family home on Valence Street in New Orleans in 2017 following its restoration.

The New Orleans City Council has approved an ordinance that would effect a street renaming to honor the Neville family, known as music royalty in the city and region.

The measure honoring the “First Family of New Orleans Music” was authored by councilmember Lesli Harris and gained sufficient support during the council meeting on December 1 to be forwarded to the mayor. 

Harris noted that the ordinance has the support of the family and was spearheaded by Fox News journalist Arthel Neville, a third-generation member of the Neville clan. 

She is the daughter of the late Arthur ‘Art” Neville Jr., who with his brothers Charles, Aaron, and Cyril formed the Neville Brothers band in the 1970s. Art had previously helped define the genre of funk with his band The Meters during the previous decade.

“The Neville Brothers created a sound which cemented their place in New Orleans history,” Harris said during the city council meeting proposing the new ordinance.

“It’s only fitting that the honorary renaming of Valence Street to Neville Way occur, as the four brothers spent part of their childhood there, leading to their exposure to gospel music, which lit their passion for creating and sharing music.”

Valence Street, a north-south thoroughfare that runs for a mile and a half in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, would have some two blocks renamed, between Coliseum and Camp where the family once resided.

Though raised Catholic by their mother Amelia, the brothers were also involved in their father’s house of worship, Trinity Church on Valence and Chestnut Streets, near where the renaming is now slated to occur. There, they received much of their musical inspiration, which would later serve them as professionals on the local and national scene.

Now more than a half-century later, their influence in popular music is well-established, with more than 15 Grammy nominations between them—including a nod in 1999 for the Neville Brothers album “Valence Street,” paying homage to their upbringing, and four wins for Aaron during his successful solo career.

The brothers’ children have also seen success in the industry, including Art’s son Ian and Aaron’s son Ivan, who have collaborated on the band Dumpstaphunk since 2003. Another of Aaron’s sons, Jason, is also an accomplished musician, as are Charles’ daughter Charmaine and Cyril’s children Omari and Imani. Aaron and Cyril are the only surviving members of the original Neville Brothers lineup.

As part of the ordinance process, which began earlier in the fall, local residents submitted comments to the city council praising the idea of memorializing the Neville family with a new physical landmark.

“It goes entirely without saying that I wholeheartedly support naming a street in their honor. My only question would be: why haven't we done this sooner?” wrote musician Guy Sharpless.

Local artist Andy Levin added that he photographed the Neville Brothers band after moving to the city decades ago and called a street renaming “the right thing” to do.

“[Valence] Street will always be associated with the Neville Brothers and with the Neville family.”

Now approved by the city council body, the ordinance states that the city will install honorary street name signs on an unnamed date upon payment of the related fees. The signage will remain for ten years, after which it will be removed.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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