Aaron Neville may still possess the brawny build of the guy who used to work the New Orleans docks, but the moment the man opens his mouth, you get an idea of what it’s like to hear angels sing. Lush and delicate, Neville’s vocals are facile enough to go from pumping falsetto runs into ballads to digging into vintage Crescent City funk. In addition to hearing strains of the doo-wop sounds he grew up loving, those tremendous pipes also reflect the influence of a number of greats, including Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and Little Jimmy Scott.
The following are the ones who resonate most for this gentle giant who’ll be celebrating his 78th birthday on Jan. 24, 2019.
Art Neville (Dec. 17, 1937-present)
“He was my idol and I always looked up to him. He was always able to hit notes that it seemed like no one else could sing.”
James “Pookie” Hudson of The Spaniels (June 11, 1934-Jan. 16, 2007)
“We’d always sit around the projects because everybody wanted to sing like Pookie. He was so smooth. I got to know him and Curtis Mayfield and those were some special times in my life. I got to meet him before he died. He was staying in the D.C. area, and I called him up on stage to sing with me.”
Nat “King” Cole (March 17, 1919-Feb. 15, 1965)
“Nat ‘King’ Cole was my mother and father’s favorite singer, so his music was always being played around the house. I remember going around and singing songs of his like ‘Mona Lisa’ all the time.”