Many of the music lovers who visit the city of New Orleans come away with fond memories of being entertained by Charmaine Neville. She and her sidemen, Reggie Houston and Amasa Miller, have a regular gig at the premier contemporary jazz club in the city: Snug Harbor. Host to the hottest acts in the jazz idiom, Snug Harbor is the place to find Neville thrilling the crowd with her unique mix of music and comedy and audience participation. Guests are likely to end up sharing a microphone with the entertainer for one of her impromptu singalongs. Her contagious smile and enthusiastic personality help reluctant participants overcome any semblance of stage fright in the intimate club. Soon everyone has joined in the fun and laughter. The audience loves her because she helps them love themselves.
Nothing less could be expected from an entertainer who claims Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett as role models, and who says most of what she learned came from old cartoon shows with their swinging theme songs, like on The Flintstones. As a young girl, the New Orleans native took all that in while living in Austin, TX, where she later attended university. She started performing there when she was just 12 years old.
When she returned to New Orleans at age 16, she learned for the first time that she came by her musical inclination naturally: she is the daughter of Charles Neville, the horn man for the Neville Brothers. Charmaine Neville became acquainted with her father and began gigging with him and his brothers, displaying her talents at both song and dance.
But it is with her association with saxophonist Reggie Houston and pianist Amasa Miller that Charmaine Neville has established her reputation. The talented trio have a relaxed mix of familiarity and synergy. Good natured banter is interspersed with good jazz. During their shows, Neville teases Miller and refers to Houston as her "future ex-husband." The merriment is captured on a hard-to-find CD, Live at Snug Harbor, as well as on her 1998 release, Queen of the Mardi Gras. The latter contains an homage to the carnival music of the streets, with popular Mardi Gras Indian tunes such as "Iko Iko" and "Carnival Time," as well as the Mardi Gras theme song, "If Ever I Cease to Love."
Their brand of entertainment has made Neville and company popular at Snug Harbor, and at the Gazebo in the French Quarter. And the good hearted Neville can be counted upon to show up at any benefit for a worthy cause. Her song "Can You Tell Me How You Feel?" on the It's About Time CD sums up Neville's compassionate views about poverty, homelessness, and other social ills.
Neville's talents have not gone unnoticed. She and her band have performed all over Europe and Japan; she has been featured on PBS, in Vogue, and in a Levi's 501 ad. But Tuesday nights still find her down at Snug Harbor where the hard-working and exuberant diva keeps her fans singing along. ~ Rose of Sharon Witmer