Charles Neville, Grammy award winning saxophonist and member of R&B, soul, and funk group, The Neville Brothers, has been battling pancreatic cancer for the past two months. He was born and raised in New Orleans, but has called the Pioneer Valley home for the past two decades, and now both communities are coming together to show their support for Neville and his family.
The Academy of Music in Northampton will host, “Celebrating Charles” on Feb. 3 at 8 p.m., which will include a lineup of famous New Orleans musicians paying tribute to Charles Neville., including his brother – soul singer and voice of the Neville Brothers – Aaron Neville; his daughter – jazz singer Charmaine Neville, New Orleans jazz and blues singer Henri Smith, and his son – keyboardist and composer Khalif Neville.
“He’s such a great person, not only a great musician … It’s very heartwarming to him that people love him and are putting this show together,” Smith, a long-time close friend of Charles Neville, said.
He said Charles Neville has played with many musicians over the years, from blues guitar icon B.B. King, New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint, as well as Neville’’s friend – R&B keyboardist James Booker.
Smith said he moved to New England after Hurricane Katrina and didn’t know anyone in the musical community in the Northeast.
“That’s when Charles told me he wanted to see me,” he said. “And then we formed a band and had Charles as a saxophonist. Every time we performed it was such a great time. Not only that, Charles was really instrumental in knowing who I was.”
When he first heard the news of Neville’s cancer diagnosis, Smith said he was “devastated.”
Smith said he visited Charles Neville for two hours at a Boston hospital where he’s receiving treatment along with Neville’s two sons on Jan. 21.
“He almost started singing a whole tune,” he said.
Kyle Homstead, co-producer of the show with Laudable Productions, said the company contacted the Neville family about hosting a fundraiser show and although Neville cannot attend the event, it will be live-streamed for Neville and his wife Kristin.
The event will also include Branford Marsallis, an acclaimed jazz saxophonist and member of famous New Orleans jazz musician family.
“He reached out to us when he learned about the benefit and has generously offered to be part of the show,”Cassandra Holden, co-producer of the show with Laudable Productions, said.
She said Neville has hosted a variety of fundraisers in the past, but now the Pioneer Valley community and the New Orleans music scene is joining hands to help Charles Neville. All the musicians are performing without charge and the proceeds for the show will be used for medical costs and to support the Neville family.
“When someone’s in need, he’s there to help,” she said. “He also maintains deep roots in the New Orleans music scene, so it’s a life with one foot in each world.”
Other musicians on the lineup include virtuoso Kora player, Youssoupha Sidibe, who combines Western, Reggae, and African styles of music and carries the spirit of Senegal in his music, Amadee Castenell – a premier tenor saxophonist and 30-year member of the Allen Toussaint Orchestra and member of funk and soul group Chocolate Milk, as well as songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Mitch Chakour.
“The show is both a tribute and a fundraiser,” Homstead said. “It’s really an opportunity for all these musicians to pay tribute and celebrate Charles’ incredible life …. We’ll be incorporating some of his stories into the production as well.”
Holden said the stories from Charles’ life will highlight the power of music to create social change.